For added interest and a touch of architectural structure, consider adding a few shrubs to your flower beds. If you choose carefully, you can have blooms in the spring and fall as well as berries for the birds. If your garden is getting a bit too large to manage, shrubs can take up some of that extra space beautifully.
If you’re looking for something just a little different for your patch of paradise, consider some of the shrubs listed below for fall color. The University of Illinois has a marvelous website which allows you to search shrubs by size or growing requirements. Check out the database at https://extension.illinois.edu/shrubselector. Combine that search with the information available at https://extension.psu.edu/landscaping-for-wildlife-trees-shrubs-and-vines to coordinate your plantings with the needs of wildlife.
Purple Smoke Bush (Cotinus Coggygria): This plant is a marvel. Easy to grow and maintain, the smoke bush can be grown as a small tree or a shrub, depending on how you prune it. Early summer flowers form clumps of airy blooms, resembling puffs of smoke or wisps of cotton candy. Leaves are a striking reddish-purple and a gorgeous display of color. Often listed as hardy in zone 4, some catalogs list it as a zone 5 plant. As a precaution in zone 4, plant this bush in a more protected area of your yard or garden.
Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia): Another easy-to-grow shrub, red chokeberry features small white flowers in the spring, shiny green leaves in the summer and intense, shiny red to purple-red leaves in the fall. Clusters of small bright red fruit develop in late summer. Birds will eat the fruit but it’s not a favorite, so the fruit is decorative most of the winter.
Common winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata): For berries that the birds love, plant a winterberry dwarf bush. Although technically a holly, leaves are not evergreen. Even without leaves, this bush is a fall stunner, covered with clusters of bright red berries that stay through winter, unless eaten by the birds. Although this plant may favor a moist location, it also does well in dry conditions. You must have both a male and female plant to get fruit unless there are winterberry plants nearby.
Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius): Although ninebark shrubs have been around for ages, they were considered rather dull until the development of new, more colorful cultivars sporting reddish leaves with rich fall color. Hardy and easy to care for, ninebark features four seasons of interest with white flowers in the spring, colorful foliage both summer and fall, and an intriguing bark that peels back in layers during winter. Look for cultivars such as Center Glow, Diablo, or for a smaller variety, Summer Wine.
Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia): Among all this deep red shrubbery, yellow foliage would present a refreshing contrast. Available in sizes ranging from 2 to 8 feet, summersweet features lovely flowers in midsummer, followed by yellow to yellow-orange leaves in the fall. Although it will tolerate some dryness, summersweet prefers a moist environment so be sure to water frequently, particularly as the plant is getting established.
When shopping for shrubs, pay close attention to variety and size. If your space is limited, look for cultivars especially bred to stay fairly small. In a wide-open space, choose the more natural, sprawling shrubs. I would ask to examine the root ball before purchasing so that you can assess its condition. Whatever plants you choose, purchase from stores that offer at minimum a one-year guarantee on the life of the plant. Follow planting instructions carefully and your plants should thrive.
Beverly Carney can be reached at email@example.com.