Sunday, May 6, 2012

Late Spring Shrubs

Despite the recent hot weather, it is still officially spring in Georgia.  The heavy flush of early spring shrub blooms are gone now, but I noticed this week that round two has begun.  In my yard that is Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), evergreen rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense) and oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia).

Rhododendron catawbiense

Rhododendrons are typically higher elevation plants but I find they do well enough in North Georgia in north facing areas with good drainage.  I created a small berm in my yard and put a row of small ones that I got via mail order.  Three of them bloomed this year - 2 of them are the rosy-purple color so typical of the species Rhododendron catawbiense and one was billed as a white form but which ended up being a very pale pink.  Rhododendron in general is a large, open shrub and should be sited accordingly.  Be careful when researching cultivars if you are looking for native ones as many of them are hybrids with an Asian parent.

Loose and open habit of Rhododendron

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is a similar shrub in that it is evergreen, large and becomes fairly open with enough age.  The two plants grow together in the mountains, creating massive groups of cool green along streams and mountainsides.  But in shady, well mulched areas, they also do very well in suburban gardens.  I bermed up (yes, I'm using that as a verb) an area near the house and planted them as foundation shrubs.  They get sun until about noon and just love it there.  Many, many cultivars are available in a range of sizes and colors.

Kalmia latifolia
Kalmia latifolia pink cultivar
Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) is a beautiful and adaptable shrub that looks good for 3 out of 4 seasons.  Handsome foliage is covered in long white spires in May, and each spire is composed of dozens of star-shaped flowers.  The foliage is attractive all summer and then changes to a deep burgundy come autumn.  If you get a cultivar like 'Henry's Garnet' or 'Merlot', the color is especially nice.  This shrub naturally grows along streambanks so it can handle overly moist soil, but it also does very well in average moisture.  My plants get no supplemental water at all.

Itea virginica
Itea virginica
Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is another year round good-looking shrub and should be used more often.  Those foreign blue mophead hydrangeas have nothing on this one!  With large, oakleaf-shaped leaves, the foliage on this plant is a winner by itself - especially when it turns purple in the fall.  The panicles of white flowers are very showy and continue to look good into the late summer as they fade to a pale pink, giving the appearance of persistent flowers. The panicles contain both fertile and non-fertile flowers, supporting pollinators in a way that the blue and pink ones don't.  The exfoliating bark in the winter is also very attractive.  Cultivars are available in double flowering forms, dwarf forms and even a form with golden foliage.

Hydrangea quercifolia
Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey'

So if you're looking for some shrubs to extend your spring season, these are a few to consider.


  1. Around here, a blue hydrangea in the garden is usually good indicator that the property owner has grandchildren;)

  2. Grannybushes! Even my great grandmother in Canada had those blue mophead hydrangeas.

    I agree, Oakleaf Hydrangeas are fabulous shrubs that should be more common, four seasons of interest and tolerant of drier soils.

  3. Oh you two! I think plenty of young people still buy those blue hydrangeas! But hip people buy OAKLEAF hydrangea. :)