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).
Montana Moss juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Montana Moss')
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')
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.
Cool Glow Pomegranate heavenly bamboo (Nandina d. Cool Glow 'Pomegranate')
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!
Matcha Ball ash leaf spirea (Sorbaria s. 'Matcha Ball')
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.
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 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.
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.
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)
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.
Red Carpet and Orange Rocket barberries
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.