Selecting Shrubs and Trees

It's a great time to plant trees and shrubs. Our garden experts list their favorites.

Common shrubs and a tree contribute to the new landscape by adding texture, form, and height. Some of the shrubs produce berries or seasonal blooms for an added bonus. The selection and placement of these plants were so critical because we didn't want them to cover up windows or block walkways in a year or two.

A 10-foot-tall green Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) became a great specimen in the front yard, planted next to the landing. It was the most expensive plant in the whole project (around $250), but when fully leafed out in the summer, it shades the large front window. This tree will, in time, grow to about 20 feet tall, making it an excellent choice for the small lot. Japanese maples perform best in a slightly shady location. If planted in full sun, they can suffer from leaf burn.

'Carissa' hollies (Ilex cornuta 'Carissa') planted across the front of the house create a low sweep of green. We placed 13 on one side of the walk and 23 on the other. These evergreen shrubs will grow 3 to 4 feet high in time. They don't produce berries like many hollies, but their durability and size make them a nice choice for the foundation plantings. Their leaves have one soft spine, so they aren't difficult to work with, like some of the spiky hollies. They need full to partial sun to maintain a full shape.

Baby's breath spiraea (Spiraea thunbergii) provides lots of early-spring color. A group of three produces sprays of tiny white blooms; the flowers look like lace lining the long, slender stems. It isn't evergreen but can have nice fall color, turning yellow to reddish brown. This old-fashioned shrub grows around 5 feet tall and wide and likes sunny sites but will take a little shade.

Nandina (Nandina domestica) is another old-fashioned shrub used in this front yard. It usually grows 5 to 6 feet tall, but old, established plants can stretch up to 8 feet in height. An upright growth habit makes it a nice choice for a narrow spot. This durable landscape shrub produces clusters of red berries in the autumn and winter. It will grow in either sun or shade.

Before you buy shrubs or trees for your yard, know what you're growing and the plants' ultimate sizes. The 2-foot-tall plant you buy now may reach 20 feet someday.