By Paul James
Shrubs rarely get the attention they deserve, and yet they tend to be among the most carefree plants in the landscape. Those that bloom in spring – azaleas in particular – do briefly bask in the glory while in bloom, but it’s the summer bloomers that I find more rewarding, largely because their bloom period lasts so long. Aside from the obvious – crape myrtles and roses – here are some of my favorite summer-blooming shrubs.
There was a time when there was only one Abelia on the market. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case. There are now over a dozen cultivars of this beautiful evergreen summer bloomer, all of which feature dense foliage (including variegated selections), produce a profusion of flowers, and grow to about three-feet tall and wide in a sunny spot. Choose from ‘Rose Creek,’ Canyon Creek,’ ‘Kaleidoscope,’ and ‘Twist of Lime.’
Better known as Rose of Sharon, this deciduous shrub is as tough as it is beautiful, and its okra-like flowers (it’s actually related to okra) appear non-stop from summer to fall. Flowers are available in a variety of colors, including white, pink, red, violet, and blue. Most will grow to at least eight-feet tall, although dwarf versions are available. Check out ‘Aphrodite,’ ‘Bali,’ ‘Blue Chiffon,’ ‘Lavender Chiffon,’ ‘Pink Chiffon,’ ‘Whie Chiffon,’ ‘Diana,’ ‘Sugar Tip,’ ‘French Cabaret,’ ‘Minerva,’ ‘Polly Petite,’ ‘Peppermint Smoothie,’ ‘Purple Pillar,’ and ‘Little Kim.’
These are the most popular butterfly attractors on the market. But even if that weren’t the case, they’d be worth growing for their gorgeous colorful flowers that linger into fall. Plant in full sun, and prune back hard in early spring. Popular varieties include ‘Miss Molly,’ ‘Miss Violet,’ Tutti Frutti,’ ‘Royal Red,’ ‘Pugster Blue,’ and ‘Pugster Pink.’
I know, I’ve mentioned this shrub in the genus Vitex quite a few times, but that’s only because I adore it. It blooms throughout the summer, and it’s pretty much always covered with bees, bumblebees, butterflies, and moths. ‘Delta Blues’ grows to about 10-feet tall, while ‘Shoal Creek’ can hit 15 feet. Both can be pruned to six feet or so, and both can be trained as multi-stem shrubs or single-trunk trees. ‘Blue Puffball’ is a dwarf that tops out at around three feet.
Blooming from spring through summer with large, orchid-like flowers, this drought-tolerant beauty makes a great specimen. Yes, it can get rather large for a shrub, as in 20-feet tall, but something so beautiful deserves to get big, don’t you think? And by the way, the Desert Willow isn’t a willow at all. The most popular variety available is called ‘Bubba.’
Okay, so here’s another shrub I brag about often, but so does just about everyone I know who grows it. Seriously, this is a hydrangea that tolerates sun, produces jaw-dropping white flowers, and is about as easy to grow as crabgrass. Oh yeah, and its fall color is pretty nice, too. ‘Alice’ is hugely popular, and grows to between six- and eight-feet tall. ‘Ruby Slippers’ is half that size, and its flowers start out white, then gradually turn ruby red.
As easy to grow as they are beautiful, Spiraea have been around for years. Most grow to about three-feet tall and wide, and they produce foliage and flowers in a variety of colors so long as they get plenty of sun. Popular choices are ‘Renaissance,’ ‘Candy Corn,’ ‘Magic Carpet,’ Goldmound,’ and the old standby ‘Anthony Waterer.’
One more thing — you can plant any and all of these summer-flowering shrubs now. Just remember to soak them well after planting, apply a thick layer of mulch, and water deeply at least once a week.
Happy gardening, ya’ll.
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