New(er) Shrubs That Still Perform

It generally takes a few years to assess new shrubs. For example, the habit can initially be nicely compact yet after a few seasons they may resemble a gangly teenager. Or what you thought was going to be a low maintenance, drought tolerant, and deer-resistant specimen proved to be a demanding primadonna.

As the gardening year draws to a close I thought I'd revisit a few of my newer shrubs and offer you some updated feedback. I'm also going to truthfully tell you which of the shrubs I've loved in the past are about to be relegated to the compost pile (and what I'll use instead).

Conifers

Montana Moss juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Montana Moss')

Montana Moss juniper has the most beautiful lacy texture. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

I'm still as impressed with this as I was last year. It hasn't put on a lot of growth yet so I'll continue to monitor it but I can say that the color has remained fresh, the texture luscious, and it has laughed at extreme heat, lack of water, and inquisitive wildlife. I've loved it equally in containers and as a sun loving groundcover.

Celtic Pride Siberian cypress (Microbiota d. 'Celtic Pride')

November color on Celtic Pride Siberian cypress

I love this more every month! The layered habit of Celtic Pride Siberian cypress is so attractive and quite different from other plants. It has an almost lacy appearance, enhanced by frost or dew and the color transition from green through dusky purple to bronze is a bonus. A top performer in heat and drought and 100% deer and rabbit-resistant to date. It may be too wide for some gardens but if you have the space or want an easy-care groundcover this should be on your shortlist.

Broadleaf Evergreens

Cool Glow Pomegranate heavenly bamboo (Nandina d. Cool Glow 'Pomegranate')

Cool Glow Pomegranate heavenly bamboo in a fall container with Montana Moss juniper tucked beneath .

We are fortunate that here in the Pacific Northwest heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) is not invasive, although many of the newer varieties do not set flowers or berries anyway. I use Gulf Stream and Obsession varieties in many of my designs where deer-resistance is not a consideration (Note: they are considered deer-resistant on the east coast and in the south but not here). I select these varieties over others for their reliable habit as a 3' x 3' mound. Now I have an additional choice and it is quickly becoming my favorite: Cool Glow Pomegranate. The rich luscious orange-red is warmer than the deep red of Obsession. It is outstanding in containers and it looks set to hold true to the promise of another nicely compact mound in which case I shall readily use it in my landscape designs. I need to grow it on for a few more years to truly satisfy myself but this is one to watch – and buy if you see it!

Deciduous

Matcha Ball ash leaf spirea (Sorbaria s. 'Matcha Ball')

Close up of young Matcha Ball foliage. Photo courtesy First Editions

If you are looking for sun-tolerant feathery foliage – this should be on your shopping list. Ferns, meadow rue (Thalictrum spp.) and astilbe easily fill that role in the shade garden but there are fewer choices for sun so we often resort to grasses for finer textures. Matcha Ball delivers not only the perfect texture, it introduces a delicate hint of salmon pink in spring over soft golden foliage that evolves to a pleasant light green in summer. Unlike the better known Sem, this stays a nice tidy shape and doesn't appear to sucker or spread.

My test bed showing Matcha Ball at the far right in the foreground; the tidy feathery mound to the right of the variegated stonecrop.

I'll keep it in my test bed for a few more years but so far, so good. I did not give it any supplemental water this summer, even on our very hot days although my moisture retentive soil would help offset that.

Iceberg Alley sageleaf willow (Salix candida 'Iceberg Alley')

I used the Iceberg Alley sageleaf willow as a centerpiece in this container flanked by ColorBlaze® Royale Pineapple Brandy coleus (which proved to have excellent sun tolerance), and Diamond Snow euphorbia.

I fell in love with Iceberg Alley for the foliage (big surprise), but since willow is on the caviar list for deer I have been unable to test it in the landscape, instead settling it into a container that is hard for them to reach. The first year I was somewhat underwhelmed as it just didn't sparkle or grow much for me….this summer, however, it has spread out nicely and offers a much stronger presence to the point that I am looking for a spot in the garden and will commit to spraying it with deer-repellent.

Cutest little catkins ever! And so many on such a young shrub

The fluttery silver leaves are a delight and the spring catkins just beg to be touched! I think this shows a lot of promise and I need to give it a chance to really show me what it's got.

Honorable Mentions

Sundrop spirea glowing in spring

Other shrubs that are fairly new and I'm still in love with: Tianshan seven-son flower, Love Child Virginia sweetspire, Sundrop spirea (still super cute and dwarf).

Good Guys go Bad

Well not bad exactly…..but no longer doing what they were purported to do or I thought they would do.

Northern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera)

Northern bush honeysuckle has a lot going for it – but be careful where you plant it

Love it for the foliage color, flowers, deer-resistance, shade tolerance, variable soil moisture tolerance…..but in moist soil it does sucker. A lot. It's supposed to – but didn't for five years. Point being, be careful where you place it. Either keep it in drier soil (mine is fine there) or put it somewhere where it has room to roam. Otherwise I've found Kodiak Orange and Nightglow to be less aggressive – so far at least and the fall color on both is superior to the species.

Fall color on Nightglow diervilla

Red Carpet and Orange Rocket barberries

May color on Tangelo barberry

As their names suggest, one should be prostrate, the other upright, yet both are now quite wide and tall so not working well in their allocated spots. Not sure if I'll replace them or what with, but here are some barberry varieties that have stayed true to form over 7 or more years: Golden Ruby (short mound), Concorde (mid-size mound) and Tangelo (larger mound).

Share Your New Favorites

I'd love to know what new shrubs you're growing – tell me whereabouts you live and what has fulfilled or exceeded your expectations, even after a few years in the comments below.

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6 Comments

  1. Mason Vollmer on November 16, 2021 at 7:51 am

    Love it! It reminds me of the Buy, Sell, or Hold, recommendations of stock traders. Not that I have a portfolio… But every gardener has a portfolio of favorite plants! Now that we've moved to Colorado from Pennsylvania my attention has turned to drought and browse resistant plants. So I love reading your reviews. Thank you

    • Karen Chapman on November 16, 2021 at 8:28 am

      That's quite a dramatic change in gardening styles and criteria! Both beautiful areas though. Hopefully my blog will give you some good ideas as there's a considerable overlap between PA and WA surprisingly although some variance in deer preferences. Do a search on "deer" and "drought" – might help you create a new plant wish list 🙂

      • Kathy Juracek on November 25, 2021 at 9:32 pm

        What a beautiful and informative article.
        Thank You

        • Karen Chapman on November 26, 2021 at 8:35 am

          Thanks so much Kathy – glad you enjoyed it and found it helpful.



  2. Colleen on November 16, 2021 at 9:59 am

    I just replaced a Nandina d. Moyer's Red (have another one nearby – and one is enough!) with a Cool Glow 'Pomegranate' (in a container for now since I need more height where I've put it). Love the blue-green leaves, but no fall colors yet. Also, I had to replace my 7-year-old Gulf Stream, which I loved, because it was cleaved in half by the weight of ice during our February ice storm (Portland, OR). I decided to plant Moon Bay instead because it is more compact – it's looking lovely with its fall colors! But my heart belongs to Gulf Stream so it will make its way back to my garden 😉

    • Karen Chapman on November 17, 2021 at 8:43 am

      You may find that the Pomegranate colors up more in full sun. I had mine in the vegetable garden over the summer (safe from deer) so may have got this intense color earlier because of that. Let me know what you discover.
      Also, interesting about your experience with Moon Bay. I haven't found much difference in size between that and Gulf Stream although the color is sometimes better on the latter for me. So glad we can grow Nandina here though!

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