Shrubs and Ground Covers

Ilex (Holly)

Holly a shrub that has pointy leaves and structural shape that can be attractive all year long.  They prefer well-drained but not dry, slightly acidic soil in full sun; but most can tolerate unideal locations and will grow well in partial shade. Red berries appear on female plants only (holly berries are poisonous to pets and humans). Holly bushes can range from small low growing shrubs to large trees, but most usually get 6-8ft tall and wide. There are many varieties that have rounded leaves and are a wonderful addition to any garden.

Isotoma fluviatilis (Blue Star Creeper)

Groundcover

This Isotoma Creeper forms a dense, flat carpet of tiny green leaves that is smothered by blue star shaped flowers all summer. It only gets 3-6” tall and 18” wide it makes a perfect plant for plantings between paving stones or as a lawn substitute.

Juncus (Rush)

Grass

Rush is a grass-like wetland perennial that has unjointed, smooth, upright, spire-like green stems (meaning the leaves are absent) which can grow in a spreading clump 20-40” tall and wide. Stems are usually solid, with the absence of leaves. Foliage turns yellow in the fall before browning up for winter. Tiny, yellowish-green to tan colored flowers bloom in single-sided clusters located on the side of the stem slightly below the tips. The flowers emerge in July through September.

Juniperus (Juniper)

Junipers are one of the hardiest and most drought-tolerant shrubs. These conifers have prickly young foliage, mature foliage is flatter and softer; their foliage can be light green, dark green, silver-blue or have golden hues. Junipers tolerate many soil types but prefer well-draining soil and sunny locations.

Juniperus (Juniper)

Groundcover

Junipers are one of the hardiest and most drought-tolerant shrubs. These conifers have prickly young foliage, mature foliage is flatter and softer; their foliage can be light green, dark green, silver-blue or have golden hues. Junipers tolerate many soil types but prefer well-draining soil and sunny locations. “Low-growing” junipers range in height from a few inches to about 2 feet, making them a good ground cover plant. They spread easily to control erosion on a slope or to cover an area with poor soil.

Lagerstroemia (Crape Myrtle)

Crape myrtle is an upright, multi-stemmed, wide-spreading, deciduous shrub or can be formed into a small tree. It grows to 15-25ft tall and up to 15ft wide. These plants have very long bloom times, peeling bark and gorgeous fall color. Thin papery clusters of showy flowers (6-18” long) with wavy petals bloom in summer sometimes lasting until fall. Flower color can be white, pink, red, mauve, purple and lavender. Thick, leathery, privet-like, oblong leaves (3" long) emerge (late March to April) anywhere from light green with a tinge of red to bright fiery red eventually maturing to a dark green by summer. Fall colors can be shades of yellow, orange and red. After the flowers are spent, they give way to green, round seed capsules which can stay well into winter.

Laurus (Laurel)

Portuguese Laurel (Prunus lusitanica)-

Portugal laurel have glossy, dark-green leaves which are 5" long and 2" wide. In late spring through early summer, small white flowers on 5"-10" panicles, clusters of tiny, red to purple fruit follow the flowers. While humans and dogs should not consume the berries, birds will gladly eat them all once they are ripe. 25ft tall and 15ft wide. Portugal laurel is a slightly slower growing than cherry laurel, but more tolerant of the sun, wind and more drought tolerant.

Otto Luyken Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) -

'Otto Luyken' is a compact cultivar of the English Laurel that grows to 3-4ft tall and will spread 6-8ft. Used in parking lots “low growing” hedges. Will tolerate heavy shade.

English Laurel “Cherry Laurel” (Prunus laurocerasus)-

English Laurel or cherry laurel is a dense,  broad spreading, evergreen shrub that matures to 10-18ft tall with a spread to 20-25ft. Leaves are dark green and oval in shape (6” long). Tiny, creamy white, fragrant, cup-shaped flowers in upright clusters (5” long) bloom from the leaf axils in April through May. The flowers are followed by inconspicuous black berries that will ripen in mid-summer. This fruit is basically inedible for humans (bitter aftertaste) and poisonous to dogs but is loved by the local birds. Will tolerate heavy shade.

Lavendula (Lavender)

Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas)-

Spanish lavender is one of the easiest plants to grow, they’re drought tolerant and bloom a few times a year. The extremely aromatic (antiseptic or piney smelling) evergreen, gray foliage is gorgeous all year long and sets off the purple, pink or white blooms beautifully. Purple flowers are the most common. The flowers have a “pineapple” shape to them with “rabbit ears” on the top. The colorful "ears" are sterile bracts. The foliage has a deep lavender aroma and the flowers are sweeter and spicier. the dried flowers can be used for cooking and make great potpourri.  Being deer resistant makes them perfect for an herb garden border or massed as a low hedge. They flower in the spring profusely! When the flowers are spent, they need a good pruning to encourage growth and to stimulate new buds. If you do not get the buds off before they seed, they will sprout everywhere.

English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) -

English lavender is a semi-woody perennial that usually grows to 1.5-3ft tall and wide. Narrow, gray-green leaves (2 1/2” long) on square stems. Purple flowers sit on top of terminal spikes in late spring to early summer. Both foliage and flowers are highly aromatic. English lavender has been the backbone of many herb gardens for decades. Despite its common name, the English lavender is not actually from England, but it is native to the Mediterranean region. It got its name because it could grow in the English climate. This is lavender is considered to be “true lavender” and is commercially planted for harvesting its oils. English lavender flowers and foliage are popular additions to potpourris and sachets.

Leptinella (Brass Buttons)

Groundcover 

Brass buttons are a mat-forming perennial that grows to only 2” tall but spreads indefinitely by runners. Delicate, soft-textured, fern-like, oval green leaves are evergreen and will tolerate some foot traffic. Button shaped yellow flowers bloom in early summer are then followed by tiny fruit. The flowers nor the fruit are ornamental.

Ligustrum (Privet)

Japanese privet or wax leaf privet is a versatile shrub for warm winter areas. It has attractive evergreen foliage, dense foliage and is a fast grower with a compact growing habit; it is very easy to grow and maintain. Oval and blunt to ovate-lanceolate and pointed, glossy, dark green leaves (4” long) are pale whitish-green underneath. White flowers are on upright panicles (6” long) that bloom in late May through early June. Flowers have an unpleasant aroma. Flowers give way to oval-rounded black drupes which ripen in fall and persist into winter. Typically grows 6-10ft tall and wide, It shapes well and is sometimes used as topiary specimens such as globes, pyramids or cones.

Liriope (Lilyturf)

Groundcover

Lilyturf or blue lily turf is a tuberous, grass-like perennial which grows 12-18" tall and features clumps of glossy, dark green leaves that arch towards the ground (1" wide). Clumps of Liriope will slowly expand by tuberous roots, but do not spread aggressively. Upright, showy flower spikes with tiered spirals of dense, violet-purple flowers; flower in late summer. Flowers give way to blackish berries which often stay on the plant through winter.

Loropetalum (Fringe Bush)

The Chinese fringe bush or Loropetalum is an evergreen, broad-leaf, multi-stemmed shrub that grows 6-10ft tall and wide in a round habit. Oval, dark green to dark purple leaves (2.5” long) with a fuzzy underside have asymmetrical bases. The new growth is brown fuzzy shoots. Flowers are slightly aromatic, downward drooping, fringe style; flowers bloom profusely in clusters in late March through April and periodically blooming throughout the summer. Flowers can be white or pink.

Lysimachia nummularia (Creeping Jenny)

Groundcover 

Creeping Jenny is a creeping ground cover which forms a leafy mat only 2-4" tall. It will root where its leaf nodes meet the soil. It makes a great weed suppressor if you don’t mind it taking over. This ground cover thrives in damp soils which will often kill off other types of ground covers. It features round, slightly ruffled, leaves tightly packed on the stem. Abundant, cup-shaped flowers are a stunning bright yellow appear in early summer. Creeping Jenny tolerates limited foot traffic.

Mahonia (Oregon Grape)

Oregon grape is an evergreen shrub that spreads by suckering, with an upright growing habit that gets 3-6ft tall and 5ft wide; although, it can be trained to grow higher with pruning. The Oregon grape is noted for its yellow flowers in spring and edible blueish black berries that ripen in late summer. Pinnately compound; each compound leaf (10” long) has 5-9 spiny, oblong leaflets (each leaflet is 3” long). New foliage will emerge red hued in the spring and will mature to glossy, dark green by summer. Foliage gains purplish tinges in fall and eventually turns to a burgundy-bronze color by winter. In cold areas these plants can suffer from winter burn. Bright yellow flowers (2.5” long) bloom on stalks in April, flowers are mildly fragrant; following the flowers are edible berries that ripen to blue-black by early fall. Berries are sour raw but make good jellies and are attractive to birds. There are some species that can grow sun, but most will want some afternoon shade.

Miscanthus (Maiden Grass or Silver Grass)

Grass

Maiden grass is a clump-forming warm season grass that typically grows to 3-7’ tall. This grass has a dense clump of upright arching stems and leaves which give it a round, fountain like appearance. Leaves have tapered tips with serrated margins and whitish-silvery midribs. By mid-fall the foliage often turns a gorgeous shade of yellow-orange before eventually turning beige for winter. Feathery pink to red flowers form in loose terminal panicles, bloom above the clump from late August to October. The flower panicles will eventually turn beige by mid to late fall as the seeds mature. Flowers and foliage both retain a good shape with a beige color and ornamental interest throughout winter. Miscanthus can sometimes spread wildly in places. Thankfully most of the ornamental varieties are sterile.

Molinia caerulea (Moor Grass)

Grass

Purple moor grass is an upright, warm season perennial grass that has dense, flat narrow leaf blades that grow from 1-2ft tall. Leaf blades emerge green in spring, thin, white and green flowers have a purplish tone, but rapidly fades to brown as the seed sets after flowering. Flower stalks and the foliage turn yellow to orange yellow, eventually fading into light tan. 3ft upright to arching, wispy flower stalks are topped with narrow flower panicles that rise above the foliage in mid-summer.

Molina caerulea is separated into two subspecies. Subspecies caerulea which is moor grass with its grass clump being 18” tall and the flower stalks being 2-3’ tall; and subspecies arundinacea which is the tall moor grass that has a mounded grass clump being 3’ tall, with flower stalks pushing upwards of 6-8’ tall.

Muhlenbergia

Grass

Muhlenbergia or pink hair grass is a clumping, warm season, perennial grass that is noted for its  wonderful summer foliage and gorgeous clouds of fall flowers. Glossy dark green leaves and stems are thread-like that form a clump that is 2ft tall. Fall flowering is what sets this grass apart from the others. Tons of open, airy, loosely packed pink to pinkish-red flowers float above the foliage in a long fall bloom. Beige seed fluffs remain attractive in winter. Plant grows 3ft tall and wide when in flower.

 

Nandina domestica (Heavenly Bamboo)

Heavenly bamboo is an upright, broadleaf evergreen shrub that is grown for its interesting foliage that resembles that of bamboo and its fruit display. It grows from rhizomes; they usually grow anywhere from 4 to 8ft tall and to 2 to 4ft wide. Tiny whitish flowers appear in late spring in open, upright, clusters. Flowers are followed by red, spherical, two-seeded, berries that stay on the plant from fall to spring, providing some winter interest. Mature leaf color is green to yellowish green, new foliage can range from bright red to yellow.

Ophiopogon (Mondo Grass)

Groundcover

Mondo grass is an evergreen perennial that typically forms a clump 8-12” tall and as wide of narrow, grass-like, dark green leaves. Foliage is like that of Liriope, but leaves are narrower and more refined. Small, bell-shaped flowers are white to lilac-tinted that bloom in summer atop leafless stalks. Flowers are followed by round, pea-sized, blueish black berries. Flowers and fruits are partially hidden by the foliage. This plant is ornamentally grown for its grass-like leaves.

Pachysandra

Groundcover

Pachysandra is a shrubby, evergreen ground cover which grows 8-12" high and spreads by its root system to form a lush carpet of rich, dark green foliage. Its oval leaves appear primarily in whorls at the stem ends. Tiny white flowers in 1-2" long form on spikes, bloom in early spring. Flowers are not particularly showy, but on close inspection are quite attractive.

Panicum (Switch Grass)

Grass

Switch grass is noted for its columnar form and typically retains its stiff, vertical shape throughout the growing season. This clump-forming grass is a warm season grass that can grow 3' tall. Flower panicles may get an extra three feet above the foliage. Medium green leaves will turn yellow-  orange in autumn, eventually fading to beige in winter. Foliage is topped with finely textured, pinkish flower panicles that hang over the clump in mid-summer. Flower panicles begin to turn beige as the seeds mature in fall with the seed plumes hanging on well into winter. Seeds are a food source for birds in winter.

Pennisetum (Fountain Grass)

Grass

Fountain grass is a warm season ornamental grass which grows in graceful, spreading clumps from 2-3' tall and wide. Its narrow leaves are a medium to deep green during the summer and change to a golden yellow in fall eventually turning to beige in late fall. Foliage commonly remains attractive throughout the winter. Silver to pinkish-white, bottle brush-like flowers are showy and arch outward from the clump in late summer. The flower spikes turn tan as the seeds form and usually will persist through late fall or early winter. There are many awesome fountain grass varieties are available in commerce, ranging anywhere from 1-5' and featuring a variety of different flower colors (purples, pinks or whites) and autumn foliage.

Phormium tenax (Flax)

Grass-like

New Zealand flax is an evergreen, clumping perennial. It features sturdy, sword-like, brightly colored leaves in upright clumps. Colors can be green, pink, red, orange, black, apricot, gold and a variation of color usually mixed with white. Leaves are creased down the middle creating a V-shape. Panicles of flowers appear above the foliage on top of strong flowering spikes in summer. Plants in containers grow a lot smaller and almost never flower.

Photinia 

Photinia is a large, evergreen shrub that grows 10-15' tall and wide. It is commonly called “red tip” for the bronzy red to bright red new leaves that emerge in spring with a showy display lasting about 2-3 weeks. Red leaves will gradually change to glossy dark green; leaves are oval (3-4" long) with finely toothed margins. Pruning can encourage new growth of red leaves in late spring and summer. Unpleasant smelling, small, white, 5-petaled flowers (1/3" across) in wide, flat top panicles (5-6" long) bloom in late April. Fruit is a small, spherical, red berry that persists through winter to spring.

Picea (Spruce)

Dwarf spruce varieties tend to have a slower growing habit with a globular form. A nice dwarf spruce variety is Glauca Globosa (P. pungens "Glauca Globosa"), it grows slowly to 2-3ft tall; it may grow wider than tall and can develop one or more leaders that should be pruned off to keep its shape. Use dwarf spruces as a low hedge or in containers, in rock gardens or mixed borders. The bird's nest spruce is another great variety of spruce that forms a small “dwarf” round shrub with an impression on the top making it look like a bird’s nest giving this spruce its name. It grows between 2-4ft tall and wide. If you are looking to create a topiary shape or just have that perfect live Christmas tree the Dwarf Alberta spruce is the best choice! This spruce is great for patio pots most often seen next to a front door. Conical in shape they end up getting around 6ft tall and 3ft wide at the base.

Pieris

Pieris are a broadleaf evergreen shrub that matures anywhere from 3-12’ tall with a dense, upright habit. It has drooping clusters (racemes 6” long) Waxy, white flowers hang on slender, one-sided terminal panicles blooming in early spring. Bead-like flower buds are set in late summer for the following year and provide winter interest and contrast to the evergreen foliage. Serrulate, long oblong leaves (3.5” long) that emerge orange, bronze, or bright red but mature to glossy dark green. Many cultivars are available with flowers in various shades of white, pink and deep rose, various colors of emerging leaves as well as some varieties that are variegated.

Pinus (Pine)

Versatile pines have evergreen, aromatic foliage, can tolerate full sun, is drought resistant, and need little maintenance. There are some dwarf pines that have a mounded growth habit and will commonly stay less than 5ft tall. Dwarf mugo pine (Pinus mugo pumilio) is a great example, which grows wider than it does tall, the dark green shrubs is a slow grower and can reach 3 to 5ft tall and 6 to 10ft wide in 10 years. There are other mugo pines that do well as a hedge and will grow 6-8ft tall and 4-6ft wide.Another Pine with bright green needles is the Japanese red pine "Low Glow" (Pinus densiflora "Low Glow") growing to 4ft tall and wide. Several varieties of dwarf pines have low growing forms. The "Hillside Creeper" Scotch pine is a faster growing pine (Pinus sylvestris "Hillside Creeper") that only get 1.5-2ft tall but can spread 6 to 8 feet. All of these are great for rock garden plant to cascade over terraces.

Pyracantha (Firethorn)

Firethorn is a semi-evergreen to evergreen shrub that grows to 8-10ft tall and 12ft wide. It has white flowers in the spring that form in drooping clusters. Following the flowers are orange to red berries that ripen in the fall. Glossy green, long oval leaves look like they have been stretched out. They have hard needle-like spines that cover the branches.

Rhododendron and Azaleas

Rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.)

Rhododendron is made up of 500 to 900 species and includes both azaleas and rhododendrons. Most are evergreen but there are some are deciduous. They can reach anywhere from 1-6ft tall and wide. Most plants will have large, dark green, oval leaves that have fuzz on the underneath side. They are grown primarily for their attractive spring flowers and for the evergreen types for their attractive winter foliage. True rhododendrons have 10 stamens in a flower and azaleas have only 5. Flowers can be white, red, pink, purple, orange, yellow, or dual-toned.

Azalea (Azalea spp.)

Deciduous azaleas

These azaleas tend to grow in an upright habit usually taller than evergreen azaleas. Varieties range in height from 8 -15ft tall and 3-6ft wide. Blooms are tubular with long stamens that stretch beyond their petals, bright colorful flowers begin to open in the spring. Colors can be dual-toned, white, purple, pink, red, orange or yellow. Fall foliage offers a colorful surprise before they fall off usually being yellow and orange. Football shaped large leaves (up to 6” long) are solid green. These azaleas can handle full sun to part shade.

Evergreen azaleas

These azaleas require part shade, protection from direct sun and wind. Evergreen azaleas rarely need pruning (if shaping is required then pruning should be done immediately after flowering). Plants grow 6 feet or less with a mounded shape. Spring blooming but many varieties also bloom a second time in the fall. These azaleas bloom in a few different of forms including the standard round petals, strap-like or star-shaped. Flower color is white, red, orange, pink, purple or dual-toned.

Rosmarinus prostratus (Creeping Rosemary)

Groundcover 

This rosemary is a fast growing, hardy, evergreen shrub has a creeping habit with attractive little blue flowers and a strong rosemary fragrance when leaves are crushed. Strong sturdy branches have green leaves with a small white line down the crevasse of the leaf. Small Blue flowers cover the plant in spring. This plant is wonderful in rock gardens and love to hang over walls.

Rubus pentalobus (Creeping Raspberry)

Groundcover

The Creeping Raspberry, Creeping Bramble or the Crinkle Leaf Creeper is an evergreen ground cover that unlike most brambles are completely thornless. These plants have a thick, fuzzy, dark green leaf with sturdy branches. The leaves will bronze fall through early spring. Flowers are similar to blackberry and raspberry flowers; white-cream colored with 5-6 petals. The flowers give way to little golden to salmon colored berries that are edible but are not tasty. They can get upwards of 5ft across in just a few years while only staying 3-4” tall.

Sarcococca (Sweet Box)

Fragrant sweet box is a dense, low-growing, compact, broad leaved evergreen shrub that will sometimes sucker growing 3-4ft tall and wide. It features sharply pointed, elongated oval, leathery and glossy, dark green leaves (2 1/2" long). Fragrant, tassel-like, petal-less, white flowers will bloom in early spring March-April. Following the flowers are round dark red berries (1/4" across) and will ripen to black. It is a great round shrub used for low hedges or groundcover plants.

Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem)

Grass

Little bluestem is typically 2-4’ tall, and features upright clumps of slender, flat, green with each leaf having a tinge of blue at the base. Purplish flowers appear in 3” long clusters on branched stems rising above the foliage in August. The flowers are followed by fluffy, clusters of silvery-white seed heads which can persist into winter. Many consider the most outstanding ornamental feature of this grass to be its bronze-orange fall foliage color.