New plant varieties certainly have their appeal. Whether it’s brightly colored blooms or spiky leaves, these plants have many unique features and improvements. However, nothing can beat the charm of old fashioned shrubs.
These shrubs display big, eye-catching blooms that impress visitors to your garden. They tend to be relatively hardy and suffer from few pest problems.
Though some of them have fallen out of favor, these enchanting shrubs enjoyed generations of popularity. Planting them connects you with gardening heritage.
Besides, if you find an old-fashioned shrub that’s new to you, you’ll experience the excitement of discovering a “new” plant.
- Shrubs from Years Gone By
- How to Plant Shrubs
- Where to Plant Old Fashioned Shrubs
- Weigela (Weigela florida)
- Border Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia)
- Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) – A Color-Changing Old Fashioned Shrub
- Bridal Wreath Spirea (Spirea prunifolia)
- Mock Orange (Philadelphus coronarius)
- Common Lilac Bush (Syringa vulgaris) – A Sweet-Smelling Old Fashioned Shrub
- Snowball Bush Viburnum (Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’)
- Sweet Azalea (Rhododendron arborescens)
- Fuzzy Deutzia (Deutzia scabra) – An Arching Old Fashioned Shrub
- Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
- Beauty Bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis)
- Japanese Rose (Kerria japonica) – A Cheery Old Fashioned Shrub
- Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides)
- Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)
Shrubs from Years Gone By
The times may have changed, but plants’ basic growing requirements have not. The last time we checked, shrubs still need a planting site with suitable soil and sun and adequate watering and fertilizer.
How to Plant Shrubs
Dig a hole that’s as deep as the shrub’s root mass but two to three times wider. Place a balled-and-burlapped shrub in the hole before cutting away its covering.
For a potted shrub, tip the container onto its side to slide the plant out and into the hole, loosening its roots gently. In either case, fill the hole with earth, patting it down to eliminate any air pockets.
Construct a rim of soil to contain water before giving the plant a good soaking. Distribute mulch, leaving a gap around the shrub’s base.
Where to Plant Old Fashioned Shrubs
More-dramatic shrubs shine as specimen plants, either individually or in a mass. Smaller or more-subdued species make excellent foundation, background, or border plants.
Flowering shrubs are also popular as loose hedges. Though they might not have boxwood’s clean-cut edges, they still make effective privacy screens or decorative screens.
Weigela (Weigela florida)
This shrub’s arching branches exhibit many light-pink, trumpet-shaped flowers in June and sporadically throughout the summer. The flowers are most intensely colored immediately after blooming.
It’s common to leave weigela in its natural shape. Start this shrub in the spring or fall as a foundation, border, or specimen plant, or try placing several in a row to form a hedge.
Weigela flourishes in full sun and well-drained, moist soil. Water your plant regularly, feed it compost annually, and balanced plant food in late winter.
Border Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia)
This cold-hardy shrub’s long, upright branches boast bright yellow flowers in early spring. Try using forsythia as a privacy wall or foundation, background, or specimen plant, or for erosion control on a slope.
Propagate this shrub with stem cuttings. Forsythia prefers full sun and loose, medium-moisture, well-draining soil. Water new plants regularly.
Once your forsythia is one year old, strew granular fertilizer every few weeks in spring and summer. Prune it occasionally since its stems look slightly wild as they point in different directions.
Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) – A Color-Changing Old Fashioned Shrub
This shrub displays large, rounded flower clusters intermittently throughout the summer. The blooms may be blue, pink, white, purple, or red and often change color based on the soil’s pH. Put hydrangea in the ground in the spring or fall.
Consider growing it as a specimen or foundation plant or hedge. Don’t forget to collect blooms to use as cut flowers. This shrub is vulnerable to the cold but handles wind and salt.
Raise it in fast-draining, medium-moist, fertile soil. Water established plants up to three times per week and distribute fertilizer in the spring.
Bridal Wreath Spirea (Spirea prunifolia)
This fast-growing shrub’s arching branches bear clusters of white double blooms in the springtime. Its serrated leaves turn red, orange, and yellow in the fall.
This spirea shines as a specimen or foundation plant or hedge. Propagate it with softwood root cuttings. Grow it in full sun and average-quality, moist, slightly acidic to neutral soil that drains well.
Water your plant weekly during the summer if it receives less than one inch of rain per week. Give bridal wreath spirea compost in the spring and trim any suckers to prevent it from taking over.
Mock Orange (Philadelphus coronarius)
This shrub’s white springtime flowers smell like citrus, especially in the evening. Consider including mock orange in a border or using it as a loose hedge.
The best time to plant it is the fall or the spring if you’ll water it regularly. This shrub thrives in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. Don’t let the soil dry out, but don’t soak it either.
Mix in compost, bark humus, or manure when planting, and add more compost in late spring. Any fertilizer you give should be low-nitrogen. Since mature plants sometimes become overgrown, prune back the oldest branches.
Common Lilac Bush (Syringa vulgaris) – A Sweet-Smelling Old Fashioned Shrub
This bush has fragrant springtime blooms, which are most commonly purple but may also be white or burgundy. Use the lilac as a specimen plant or loose hedge, or arrange several in a row along a property border.
Propagate it via the shoots that emerge from its base. The lilac flourishes somewhere with full sun yet cool summers. It does best in loamy, neutral, fertile, well-draining soil.
Water this plant infrequently but well and feed it low-nitrogen fertilizer in the spring. Right after the shrub blooms, prune its branches to promote air circulation.
Snowball Bush Viburnum (Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’)
In the spring, this winter-hardy shrub puts out giant flower clusters that start apple-green, then turn white before fading to a rosy color. Its maple-like leaves may turn red-orange in the fall. Since the sixteenth century, gardeners have enjoyed using it as a specimen plant or hedge.
Insert this low-maintenance viburnum in the spring or fall in loamy, fast-draining, slightly acidic soil. It does best in full sun or a little shade in the south.
Water it weekly or more frequently in extreme heat. Distribute a layer of mulch, and spread compost anytime or slow-release fertilizer in the spring.
Sweet Azalea (Rhododendron arborescens)
This shrub bears clusters of fragrant, funnel-shaped white flowers with prominent red stamens in early summer through to midsummer. Its green leaves turn deep red or purple in the fall. Note that the whole sweet azalea bush is poisonous.
This plant excels in a border. Nurture it from seeds or semi-hardwood cuttings somewhere with full or partial sun and protection from strong winter winds and frost. The sweet azalea favors moist, acidic, humus-rich loam, or sand that drains well.
Give it plenty of water, especially in the summer, although it should not sit in standing water. Apply leaf mold mulch annually and a nitrogen-rich or balanced fertilizer for acid-loving plants after the shrub flowers.
Fuzzy Deutzia (Deutzia scabra) – An Arching Old Fashioned Shrub
For only a couple of weeks between early spring and mid-summer, this shrub displays many small, fragrant white flowers on its long branches. Its leaves may turn red in the fall, while its peeling bark reveals a reddish-orange color.
This shrub was popular in the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century and makes an ideal specimen plant. Try growing deutzia via layering, seeds, or stem cuttings in well-drained soil and shady conditions.
Water regularly until the plant is mature, then it can handle drought. Spread balanced, granular fertilizer in early spring.
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
This shrub’s spiky, spherical, sweet-scented white blooms are as cute as a button in the summertime. Buttonbush also produces reddish fruit or nutlets. It prefers moist locations, like swamps and pond edges.
This fast-growing shrub helps control erosion. Propagate it with seeds or cuttings. It favors full sun and well-draining soil that’s rich in organic matter.
Water your plant regularly. In early spring, feed it slow-release fertilizer. Prune this shrub annually in the fall, late winter, or very early spring.
Beauty Bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis)
This upright arching shrub has many small, pale pink flowers with yellow throats in mid- to late spring. After blooming, the beauty bush produces pinkish-brown fruit, while its leaves turn reddish in the fall.
Use this plant as a foundation, background, or border plant, or try shaping it into a hedge. Propagate it with semi-hardwood cuttings or suckers. The beauty bush flourishes in full or part sun and moist, fast-draining soil.
Water it weekly or more frequently in extreme heat. Apply all-purpose fertilizer before new growth appears in the spring, and prune immediately after the plant flowers.
Japanese Rose (Kerria japonica) – A Cheery Old Fashioned Shrub
On its arching branches, this shrub boasts yellow double blooms in the spring, and sometimes later in the summer. Its green branches extend both vertically and horizontally, making it appear somewhat unkempt.
Note that the Japanese rose’s leaves contain hydrogen cyanide, which can be fatal if eaten in large doses. Plant it as a loose hedge or foundation or border plant and propagate this shrub with semi-hardwood cuttings.
Find a site with part shade and medium-moist, well-drained, loamy soil. Keep the soil moist but not soggy and dispense slow-release fertilizer in the spring. Prune the kerria just after flowering, and remove suckers to prevent it from taking over.
Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides)
This fussy shrub boasts fragrant creamy-white flowers and leathery dark-green leaves. It thrives in a hot, humid location. Mist your plant daily, or place it on a pebble tray or near a humidifier.
Propagate the gardenia with early spring stem cuttings. It prefers full sun, but some shade if it’s sweltering. This shrub does best in moist, well-draining, acidic or neutral soil with organic matter and mulch added.
It should receive one inch of water per week, either through rainfall or watering. Once or twice a month from March to October, feed it diluted fertilizer for acid-loving plants. Once a month, wash away excess fertilizer salts with distilled water.
Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)
In late winter or early spring, this cold-hardy shrub bears orange, pink, white, or red flowers on its thorny stems. It spreads in a dense, messy mound. After flowering, it produces edible yellowish-green fruit.
Grow flowering quince in a barrier or border or as a hedge, propagating it with stem cuttings or seeds. It thrives in full sun—or partial shade if necessary—and fast-draining, acidic or neutral soil with mulch added.
While young plants appreciate occasional watering, established plants are drought-tolerant. Apply slow-release, all-purpose fertilizer in early spring, or add compost to the soil.
With their clusters of big, bold blooms or arching, flower-covered branches, old fashioned shrubs are sure to be star attractions in your garden. You might also enjoy a sweet fragrance or leaves that change color in the fall.
Use these plants to build a DIY heritage garden. The seasons might come and go, but the classic charm of old fashioned shrubs does not, whatever the current trend may be.
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