So, you’ve had it with scraggly, overgrown front yard bushes that have grown too close to the house and never look good. Or, maybe you’ve got a new home and a blank slate. Or, perhaps it’s just that you know your landscape needs “something,” but you don’t know what it is.
Regardless, you need shrubs! Shrubs are the special sauce of your landscape. They help frame your yard, dress up a bare space, bring balance to the scale of trees and your house, and provide cover for birds and other wildlife.
Our low-maintenance landscaping shrub ideas include tips on how to grow them, plus suggestions for 8 great front yard bushes—including some shrubs small enough to grow in a pot.
Location, Location, Location
Before you select a shrub, think about where it’s going to be planted. Get out a tape measure. Only buy shrubs that grow to the size you want because it saves you from having to prune them down to the right size every year.
You’ll also want to check how many hours of direct sunlight reach your shrub spot every day. If you plant a sun-loving bush in the shade, or a shade-loving bush in the sun, neither of you will be happy. Read the plant tag carefully and select a shrub that’s right for its environment.
When you measure size, remember that the width (noted on the plant tag) is as important as the height. When you get around to planting, position the roots more than half the full-size width away from a structure like a house or fence. So, for example, if the bush you’re planting is expected to grow 4 feet wide, place it more than 2 feet away from surrounding structures.
Also, remember to match your shrub to the hardiness zone where you live. You don’t want to waste money on a plant that needs a warmer or cooler climate than you’re able to offer.
Designing with Low-Maintenance Shrubs
Landscape design is something we often think we should leave to professionals. NEWS FLASH: We can do it ourselves! After all, these are plants, not concrete. If you find you’ve made a mistake, just dig it out and put in something else.
When thinking about shrub placement, an online landscape design app or website can be helpful. Or, try this super-easy, low-tech design method: Take a picture of your landscape, print out the photo, and physically sketch out what you’d like to put where.
Go ahead and dream big! A tall, slim shrub might be a great accent on a corner of your house or as a focal point in your garden. Two plump front yard bushes could be great companions on either side of an arch or gate to your backyard. Low-maintenance shrubs, placed in pleasing arrangements of sizes and types, can easily fill a perimeter border.
Planting shrubs is not rocket science. Or brain surgery. Or even as complicated as riding a bicycle.
Here’s one precaution you should take, though: In the US, call 811 a few days before you dig. Each state has a local call center that will send someone out (don’t worry, it’s a free service) to mark power lines and other utilities so you don’t accidentally cut lines that may lie mere inches below ground level.
Once you know where buried lines are located (and have adjusted your design as necessary to avoid them), it’s time to improve the texture and nutrition of your soil. Dig a hole following the instructions on the plant tag—usually, you need one that’s as deep as, and twice as wide as, the root ball. In a bucket or wheelbarrow, mix equal amounts of the soil you’ve just removed and Miracle-Gro® Garden Soil for Trees and Shrubs.
Place the shrub in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the top of the hole. Fill the hole with the improved soil and water deeply. You don’t need to tamp down the soil, but if the ground level sinks after the water soaks in, add a little more of the soil mixture to level out the top.
Finally, while most folks think about planting them in the spring—and that’s just fine!—know that fall is actually the best time to plant shrubs.
Growing Shrubs in Containers
No garden? No worries! Many small and miniature shrubs work well in containers on your deck or balcony, or near an entryway. Be sure to choose a large pot and fill it with Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix, designed especially to provide just the right root environment for container growing. Get more tips on growing trees and shrubs in containers.
A word to the wise: While the term “dwarf” may give the impression that a pot could be that shrub’s forever home, always read the plant tag to check the final size. Dwarf conifers, for example, grow very slowly to a mature size that can be much larger than you’d think.
Some hardy evergreen shrubs that stay small include some species of creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) such as ‘Andorra Compact,’ ‘Bar Harbor,’ ‘Blue Chip,’ ‘Gold Strike,’ and others. Other low maintenance shrubs in very small sizes include dwarf boxwood; dwarf weigela, such as ‘Spilled Wine,’ ‘Midnight Wine,’ ‘Minuet,’ and ‘My Monet’; dwarf spirea such as ‘Magic Carpet’; and dwarf Norway spruce.
You’ll want to pay extra special attention to hardiness when you plant shrubs in containers. If you plant to keep the pot outdoors year-round in cold climates, select a shrub that’s rated to at least one hardiness zone colder than yours. You can also bring potted shrubs inside a protected but unheated space, like a garage or basement, and let them go dormant over the winter, watering lightly about once a month.
Growing shrubs get hungry, no matter where you’re growing them! Feed them twice a year—once in the spring and once in the fall—with Miracle-Gro® Tree & Shrub Plant Food Spikes. (Be sure to follow package directions.) They’re super-easy to use: Just take out a spike, put the plastic cap on top, and drive the spike into the ground with a hammer or mallet.
Prune a Little – If You Want
Should you prune? There’s nothing low maintenance about constant pruning. But feel free to shape any of your shrubs once in a while if you see something out of place. After all, shrubs don’t care about growing exactly symmetrical. Just take a snip here and there, now and then. For more info on pruning, check out Pruning Trees and Shrubs.
8 Great Low-Maintenance Shrubs
1. For those with a desert garden, California creosote is a beautiful ornamental shrub that’s very easy to grow. Learn more about creosote bushes.
2. Check out Japanese spirea (clue: look for the word “japonica” in the botanical name). There’s a new series of spirea called Double Play®, named for both beautiful foliage and flowers. Among the choices are Double Play® Doozie, which never sets seed, so it has a continuous bloom of tiny red-pink flowers. Hardy in zones 3 to 8, it grows 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. It tolerates a bit of shade but blooms best in full sun.
3. Need landscaping shrubs for a mass planting, low hedge or edging plant? Low Scape® Mound (Aronia melanocarpa) grows just 2 feet tall and wide. It’s incredibly hardy (growing in zones 3 to 9), adapts to most soils, and offers spring blooms and fall foliage color. It also tolerates some shade, but it’ll produce more flowers and fruit (sour berries that make excellent jelly) if it’s planted somewhere where it gets lots of sun.
4. Smokebush (Cotinus cogygria) comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. You can grow it as multi-stemmed shrubs or single-stemmed trees, growing up to 15 feet tall and wide. Foliage colors can range from green to burgundy with fall color. The “smoke” comes from the threadlike hairs from the spent flower clusters that rise in smoky pink masses above the leaves in summer.
5. Fothergilla, also known as bottlebrush, is a low-maintenance landscape shrub that comes in a wide range of sizes, with spring blooms that look like bottle brushes and gorgeous fall color. Legend of the Fall® (Fothergilla x intermedia) runs a bit large, up to 5 feet tall and wide, while dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenia) is about 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. Both need at least 4 hours of sun, grow well in zones 4 to 9, and require a bit of supplemental water during dry periods.
6. Let us count the ways we love diervilla, a shrub with all kinds of wonderful properties: It’s drought tolerant, deer resistant, needs no pruning, offers spring foliage and fall color, and grows in almost any soil and any sun or shade. Varieties to consider include Kodiak® Red Kodiak® Black, and Kodiak® Orange, each growing 3 to 4 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide.
7. Hardy evergreen shrubs are great front yard bushes for landscapes—just make sure you check the mature size on the plant tag so you don’t accidentally plant a giant-to-be in front of a window. If you’re looking for a groundcover evergreen, consider a spreading juniper such as Montana Moss®. It grows in full sun in zones 4 to 9, reaching 2 to 4 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet wide. Another new sun-loving juniper, Gin Fizz®, grows with a pyramidal shape up to 18 feet tall and 10 feet wide, and is hardy in zones 4 to 8. Bonus: Junipers are generally deer resistant.
8. Holly (Ilex species) has so much going for it as a low-maintenance plant. Most hollies can grow in partial shade, though they produce more flowers and fruits in full sun. They come in a huge range of sizes and shapes and really shine in fall and winter, with beautiful glossy foliage and red or orange fruits. Most hollies are deer resistant, too! One good thing to keep in mind, though: There are male and female varieties (check the plant tag), and you’ll need at least one of each in order to produce berries on the female plant. For example, if you plant Castle Keep® Blue Holly (Ilex x meserveae), a rounded female selection that grows 3 to 5 feet tall and wide in zones 5 to 7, you’ll also want to plant the male variety, Castle Wall® Holly, nearby. Looking for a more vertical holly? Castle Spire®, a female selection, grows 10 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
Didn’t see your favorite shrub on this list? There are lots of great front yard bushes and landscaping shrub ideas out there. Just remember to read the plant tag for size and care tips. Shrubs can’t read, but they sure know how to grow!