Shrubs are commonly used for hedges, privacy barriers, or borders to separate property lines. There are even some types that you can prune into unique topiary shapes.
We’re going to look at the different types of shrubs, which can be evergreen or deciduous. Some shrubs produce attractive flowers, while others may provide dense growth that gives maximum privacy. Shrubs can range in sizes, appearance, and growing conditions.
We’ll cover each shrub’s name, look, hardiness zone, uses, and size. We’ll also mention any particular growing conditions they are suited for, such as drought-resistant.
What Is a Shrub?
Shrubs are small trees (shorter than 13 feet) that serve ornamental and landscaping purposes. All shrubs fall into two categories: deciduous or evergreen.
When a shrub classifies as evergreen, it keeps its leaves throughout the year, staying green even in winter. Deciduous shrubs will lose their leaves in the fall and regrow them come spring.
Shrubs are different from trees in size but also in the root system. Trees have a single trunk root system, while shrubs have multiple roots.
Shrubs also usually have a rounded crown shape. When shrubs are planted closely together, they form a hedge. The term bush is a synonym of shrub and works interchangeably.
When Should You Plant Shrubs?
Many people plant shrubs as a way to provide natural privacy to their homes or lawn. Some varieties produce thick foliage that’s impossible to see or get past. You can use these to block the view from your neighbor’s house, the road or to prevent access to your windows.
Planting shrubs in front of western or eastern-facing windows can give you shade, which can reduce your electric bill. Choosing a deciduous type that loses its leaves in winter allows for passive solar heat.
Some people also enjoy planting shrubs as a way to encourage wildlife visits. Some varieties are attractants to butterflies, while others may be flavorful for deer and squirrels. You can also find types resistant to wildlife, so your hedges aren’t ruined by wildlife feedings.
Types of Shrubs
There are many different types of shrubs. To make them easier to view, we’ve broken them down into different categories. These categories will help you decide what type the shrub is and what purpose it can serve.
Evergreen shrubs are a great landscaping plant for edging flower beds along the driveway or in front of your windows. These shrubs keep their green color all year, making them great for privacy and a pop of color when everything else has gone dormant for the winter.
Flaky Juniper, also known as the Blue star, singleseed Juniper, Himalayan Juniper, or the scientific name Juniperus Squamata, is a shrub native to Himalayan mountains and China.
But it also does quite well as a compact shrub in hardiness zones 4 through 8. This slow-growing dwarf conifer can grow one to three feet tall and 1.5′ to three feet wide by maturity and requires little to no maintenance or pruning to hold its shape.
This shrub has bright grayish-blue needled foliage that grows dense into a mound shape. Due to its tolerance for various soil types, many people choose this shrub to plant in rock gardens in full sun.
The Boxwood shrub, scientific name Buxus Sempervirens, also called the common box plant, gets its name due to its ability to form into any shape with pruning, typically a square or box shape.
This shrub produces a dense growth of small glossy, oval leaves that stay dark green all year long. These bushes can be anywhere from three to thirty feet tall, making them an excellent option for window hedges to get privacy or to line the front of your yard to block the view from the road.
Boxwood shrubs require full sun but can also tolerate partial shade in zones 5 through 8. It also needs moist but well-draining soil. Maintenance for this plant can be demanding if you want to shape it into a topiary design.
Laurus Nobilis or Bay Laurel (common name) is another common shrub or bush, depending on pruning. This plant can grow between 12 and 40 feet tall in zones eight through eleven.
Bay Laurels do best in warm climates, although they can tolerate full sun or partial shade. The leaves of a Bay Laurel are dark green and oval-shaped, with a leathery texture and intense aromatics. Many people use Bay leaves to flavor cooked dishes.
Determining the plant’s gender can be done by noticing the appearance or lack of tiny yellow flowers in the spring that turn into small shiny purplish-black berries later in the season. Male Laurels do not produce flowers or berries.
The Japanese Laurel, aka Aucuba Japonica, is a slow-growing shrub that does well in most locations, regardless of soil content, sun, or shade. These shrubs grow between six and ten feet wide and tall.
This shrub is versatile enough to prune into hedges, left to grow naturally, or trimmed into neat shapes. The gold spots covering the lush green leaves give this plant a unique look. For the brightest golden highlights, plant these shrubs in full sun.
In spring, female plants produce small purplish-red flowers that form into little red berries during the fall. Aucubas do best in hardiness zones six through ten.
Emerald Gaiety, also known as Wintercreeper or the scientific name Euonymus Fortunei, is another evergreen shrub that can grow just about anywhere in zones five through nine.
Its adaptability makes it an invasive species throughout the eastern United States. This plant does well in shade or full sun and a variety of different soil types. You can grow Emerald Gaiety as a low hedge, but it will run up fences or walls if you don’t use caution when planting.
These bushes have dark green leaves with cream margins that turn a pinkish hue during winter. Wintercreepers produce small whitish flowers in summer, although these blooms are not large enough to be ornamental.
Another shrub option that works well for a decorative shrub is the Japanese Skimmias, lati name, Skimmia Japonica. This evergreen shrub features bright leathery green leaves that make a dramatic backdrop to the plant’s spring foliage.
Come warm weather, and the female Skimmias produce massive clusters of pink or white blooms with strong aromatic fragrances. These flowers then form into bright glossy red berries throughout winter. Males also have a wider number of showy flowers, but they do not produce fruit.
If you need an evergreen shrub that’s tolerant of shady locations, the Japanese Skimmias might be the perfect solution. These shrubs grow up to four feet tall and form into a mound shape, perfect for flower beds around the house.
Many people choose evergreen shrubs over deciduous varieties due to how the plant looks come winter. Naturally, a shrub that keeps its leaves year-round sounds better than a bush that lies naked and bared during winter.
But many people also overlook the most significant advantage of deciduous, which is their ability to lose their leaves. As the seasons’ change, so does a deciduous bush’s foliage. So you can enjoy multiple looks each year, rather than the same green-colored foliage of evergreens.
Japanese Spirea, aka Spiraea Japonica (scientific name), comes in various cultivars and colors. It’s most famous for its dramatic foliage, which goes through multiple color changes with the seasons.
These shrubs grow to be between three and four feet in height, making them perfect for low borders or growing pots. Most varieties start with orangish-colored leaves that darken to green or yellow by summer before darkening to red in autumn.
Japanese Spirea also produces attractive pink flowers during spring and summer, making it an excellent ornamental shrub for attracting butterflies. It does well in zones three through eight.
Smooth Hydrangeas, scientifically named Hydrangea Arborescens, are hardy shrubs that do well in cold temperatures, allowing it to grow abundantly through zones three through nine. It’s native to the eastern US.
These bushes produce large spherical-shaped clusters of white flowers that are excellent as cut flowers for bouquets or vases. The blooms start as a light neon green color that turns into a bright, creamy white in full bloom. These flowers turn brown once they die at the end of each season.
The broad leaves are heart-shaped, dark green in the spring and summer, and turning a brilliant yellow in fall before shedding for winter. These bushes are perfect for planting under windows or around patios or porches.
Bush Honeysuckle, or Diervilla Lonicera, is another type of deciduous shrub suitable to a wide range of climates in zones three through ten. These plants tolerate partial shade or full sun. There are two varieties – Northern (Diervilla lonicera) and Southern (Diervilla sessilifolia).
Despite the name, this shrub isn’t a honeysuckle. The name came from the yellow flowers it produces in spring to summer, which resemble honeysuckles. The shiny green leaves also look similar to a real honeysuckle bush. These leaves turn red in fall. In fall, they also produce small red berries.
Bush honeysuckles have a height of three to four feet, with the ability to grow wider than four feet in a round or mound shape.
Chokeberry, scientifically known as Aronia Arbutifolia’ Brilliantissima’, gets its name and fame due to the thick clusters of glossy fruit. These berries ripen in late summer but will cling to the trees up to winter, providing a pleasant sight to accommodate this shrub’s fall foliage.
In the fall, the leaves turn vibrant shades of orange, red, or purple. In spring, they’re a glossy green. The real centerpiece will be the clusters of showy white or pink flowers. These shrubs grow between six and ten feet tall and three to five feet wide in zones four through nine.
Although chokeberries are edible, they are highly astringent, which makes them too bitter to eat. Most people experience choking, hence the name. These berries do make yummy additions to wine, syrup, jelly, juice, and tea.
Japanese Barberry, scientifically Berberis Thunbergii, is native to Japan that does well in US zones four through eight. Due to their slow growth of one to two feet a year, these shrubs work excellent for hedges. Thorns along the stems provide extra protection as a barrier.
These shrubs have one-inch long leaves that are green in spring and summer but darken to brilliant red and orange shades in the fall. These plants produce tiny yellow or orange flowers around May that form into oblong red berries that grow through winter.
Japanese barberries can grow to be four to six feet in height. The thick, compact growth of this plant makes it best for preventing access to areas for animals. But it is an invasive species, so you have to use care, so it doesn’t kill your other plants.
Red Twig Dogwood
Red Twig Dogwoods, also called Cornus Sericea or Cardinal, are deciduous shrubs that look great year-round. In the summertime, these bushes have showy foliage, attractive berries, and fragrant blossoms.
These leaves shed in winter, leaving behind bright red stems, which provide a stark contrast against snowy winter conditions. With a height range of six to nine feet and a width of eight to twelve feet, these shrubs do great as ornamental pieces.
Many people like using these bushes to attract butterflies and birds into the yard. They do well in full sun or shade in zones three through eight.
Virginia Witch Hazel
Virginia Witch Hazel, or Hamamelis Virginiana, has broad leaves that change seasonally, starting as pale green and darkening into golden by fall.
The most prominent feature of this shrub is the flowers, which bloom in yellow shades in the fall and last through most of the winter. These blossoms have unique twisted petals that give them a ribbon-like appearance.
These shrubs grow to be less than ten feet tall with a rounded crown that grows well in zones three through eight in full sun or partial shade in various soil types.
Hedging shrubs provide privacy without the unsightly look of fences or walls. You can use these to create a border along your property line or security around your home to block access to windows. Some hedges can even offer shade and block the wind.
English Holly, scientifically labeled Ilex Aquifolium, are excellent for privacy hedges due to its dense growth. These bushes can grow up to fifteen feet in height with a width of eight feet.
Due to their prickly leaves, these shrubs are excellent for deterring intruders and animals. The glossy color of the foliage gives a waxy, almost unreal appearance. In the spring, they grow tiny white flowers. Pollinated female bushes will then produce shiny red berries that are not edible.
English holly does best in zones five through nine and does good in all soil types and under any sun exposure, including full shade, making it adaptable for any area of your yard. And it’s not affected by too little or too much water.
Yew bushes, aka Taxus, are a classic shrub for hedges due to their thick, needled foliage. But due to the slow growth of less than one foot a year, it’s not ideal for anyone looking for immediate hedge coverage. At full height, these shrubs can grow up to six feet tall.
These bushes can tolerate various soil, sun, and weather conditions, making them a versatile option for zones two through ten.
The bright green needle leaves have two yellow bands along the bottom and form in thick clusters to provide strong privacy. It also produces attractive bright red fruits that are not consumable due to their toxicity. The Yew berry has caused death for multiple livestock and humans.
The Arborvitae or Thuja shrub is excellent as a privacy screen due to its thick, dense growth. You need to use care when choosing this species, as some cultivars can grow over sixty feet tall, which is far larger than most shrubs. Most varieties will range from seven to fifteen feet tall.
These bushes can tolerate full sun or partial shade throughout zones two through seven. The fast growth rate allows you to have privacy quicker than other slower-growing shrubs.
Rather than traditional leaves, these shrubs have flat sprays of bright green, shiny needles. They also produce one-inch long cones that become brownish-red in the fall.
Laurel shrubs, also known as English or cherry laurel or Prunus Laurocerasus, have a medium growth rate with max heights of eighteen feet and widths of thirty feet.
This species has a high tolerance for strong winds, low light conditions including full shade, and any soil type in zones six through eight.
From April to June, these shrubs produce white flowers, which are an attractant for multiple wildlife. However, wilted leaves, seeds, and stems can be fatally poisonous if eaten, so watch your pets and small children. In some states, this shrub is a weed of concern.
Canadian Hemlock, scientifically known as Tsuga Canadensis, is another needled-foliage shrub that works excellent for hedges, windbreaks, or privacy screens.
These bushes produce thick, dense foliage of short needles, similar to Christmas trees. They do best in partial to full shade. Full sunlight and high temperatures can cause the leaves to scorch. It’s also sensitive to drought, so you have to keep it well watered.
You can plant these hedge bushes in zones four through eight. Different varieties range in sizes, with the most popular for hedges being the Emerald Fountain, which grows between two and three feet wide and six to ten feet tall.
Shrubs for Shade
Some varieties of shrubs thrive in shaded areas. It’s essential to understand a plant’s sun preferences if you want to get the best growth out of them. Here are some of the best shrubs to plant where there’s limited to no direct sunlight.
The Andromeda, aka Pieris Japonica, Japanese Andromeda, and Red Head, is a flowering evergreen shrub that does well in partial shade. It will still grow in full shade, but you won’t get as good of a flowering.
These plants are highly fragrant due to the small blooms, which is advantageous for many, but a negative for plenty of others. You may want to do a test smell at a nursery before deciding to plant these around your home.
Growing between six and eight feet tall, these shrubs produce striking pink flower clusters in the early spring that fade to creamy white and lovely leaves that start bright red and turn to glossy, dark green.
California Sweetshrubs, also called western sweetshrub, western spicebush, spicebush, or Calycanthus Occidentalis in the scientific community, are common shrubs for controlling soil erosions and deer infestations.
These shrubs do well in various lighting conditions, from full sun to complete shade in zones six through nine. However, it does not do well during droughts, so it needs plenty of water and moist soil. The leathery, shiny dark green leaves turn yellow in fall but are not showy.
The most notable feature of these deciduous shade-tolerant shrubs is the odd spindle flowers that bloom in a rich burgundy shade with a red wine aroma. They grow to heights of six to fifteen feet.
Coast Leucothoe, known as Leucothoe Axillaris, or more commonly coastal doghobble, is an evergreen shrub that grows well in zones six through nine. It’s native to the southeastern US.
These small shrubs grow between two and four feet in height with a small spread of three to five feet, making them excellent for small areas with partial shade.
These shrubs’ biggest attraction is the fragrant, bell-shaped flowers that hang in clusters along the stems in May. In spring and summer, the leaves are a dark, glossy green that darkens to a bronzed purple come winter. Many people use these for topiary or hedges.
Many people prefer to plant flowering shrubs, which gives you the best of both worlds – privacy and beauty. While many shrubs may provide small, unnoteworthy flowers, these varieties go the extra mile with bright, showy flowers that make a statement.
We discussed smooth hydrangeas earlier. However, Panicle hydrangeas, also known as hardy, Limelight, peegee hydrangeas, or Hydrangea Paniculata, is most preferred as a flowering shrub due to its massive flowers, low-maintenance lifestyle, and shade tolerance.
Another benefit of these shrubs is that they are cold hardy, growing in zones 3 through 8 or 9, so you continue to get beautiful blooms when other flowers have long gone dormant. The flower clusters start as a light cream and turn pale pink with cool weather.
These flowering shrubs can grow from eight to twenty feet tall, with a width between six and eight feet wide. Some varieties come single-stemmed, while others feature multi-stemmed growths.
A hardy flowering shrub is a Cinquefoil, or Potentilla Fruticosa, which tolerates low temps and droughts. These shrubs grow around three-foot tall and wide, making them an excellent border hedge.
These shrubs are preferable due to their abundance of bright yellow flowers that smother the small bluish-green leaves. These flowers bloom from late spring through the first frost, giving a long bloom season.
The ability to handle a wide variety of soils, weather conditions, and sunlight exposure makes it one of the easiest shrubs to maintain.
Another beautiful type of flowering shrub is the Butterfly Bush, scientifically known as the Buddleia Davidii. These shrubs produce clusters of tiny purple flowers that can grow up to 10″ long on long spiked stems.
The flowers appear in midsummer and will continue to bloom until the first frost. Lanced green leaves and arched stems add extra attractiveness to set this bush apart.
These hedges grow well in full sun or partial shade in many soil conditions. It does better with dry soil and droughts but will not tolerate soggy dirt. The ease of growth and ability to attract butterflies make this hedge perfect for your yard or garden.
Rose of Sharon
Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus Syriacus, is a type of Hibiscus shrub that can grow from nine to twelve feet tall with a vase-shaped spread of ten feet in zones five through nine.
They do well in full sun to partial shade with most soils, except extremely dry or wet. Although
a deciduous tree, the leaves do not change colors in fall.
The biggest draw of Rose of Sharon shrubs is the large flowers in colors of light blue, red, lavender, or white, which bloom in late summer to fall.
The Camellia shrub, scientifically labeled Camellia Japonica, is a shade-tolerant evergreen native to Korea, China, and Japan that does well in zones seven through ten. There are over 30,000 cultivars of this flowering shrub in various flower shapes and colors.
Flowers can range from 1.5″ to 5″ in diameter, in colors from white, dark red, or shades of pink with single, semi-double, double, formal, or full petal forms that live for three to four weeks.
They also have four-inch long, leathery green leaves that retain their color year-round. These shrubs can grow between six and twelve feet tall with a six to ten-foot spread. Some cultivars may grow up to 25 feet tall.
Koreanspice Viburnum also called arrowwood, or Viburnum carlesii, is a deciduous shrub that does well in shady locations in zones four through seven.
These bushes produce clusters of tiny pink or white fragrant flowers that look like feathery snowballs sitting high above the broad leaves. Towards the end of summer, these flowers form into red berries that darken to black when ripe.
The leaves of these shrubs are pale green in summer but darken to a lovely burgundy in fall. This is a slow-growing shrub with a growth rate of one to two feet a year, maxing out at six feet tall and wide.
Choosing the right shrubs for your landscaping doesn’t have to be a difficult decision. By learning the different types of shrubs, you’ve taken a great first step. Once you know what purpose your shrubs will have, you’ll be ready to pick the perfect variations to plant. Consider your USDA hardiness zone, sun, water, and soil needs when debating among the different types.