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Midwest Gardening
Best Performing Shrubs I-R

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Japanese Rose: (Kerria japonica) Full sun to shade  Hardy flowering Shrub Kerria Japonica Pleniflora Hardy in zones 5-9  Flowering shrub  This graceful flowering shrub with arching branches produces large golden yellow buttercup flowers in spring. 'Pleniflora' produces double blooms. Although it would make a beautiful specimen plant, it should be planted against a wall or in a border so it is protected from wind. Grows to 6-8 feet and 6-9 feet wide, with an upright form.  ‘Golden Guinea’ has larger flowers and blooms for a longer period.  Japonica prefers moist well drained soil, and flowers will stay “fresh” longer in part shade.

Lilac: Full sun  Hardy in zones 3-7  Hardy Flowering Shrub Lilac Flowering Shrub.  Whether you chose an old fashioned or a hybrid, you can’t beat the beautiful spring scent of a lilac. You will find traditional purple-blue, whites, pink or red pink, and even yellow blooming lilacs. Tried and true hardy to zone 3, most reaching between 8 and 12 feet but can be pruned. For a smaller rounded lilac with sweetly perfumed blooms, try the 'Miss Kim'.


Mock Orange: (Philadelphus coronarius) Full sun toHardy Flowering Shrub Philadelphus Mock Orange part shade  Hardy in zones 4-8  Flowering shrub.  Large rounded flowering shrub up to 12 feet high and wide, but can be kept pruned to a smaller size. Early summer flowers have the sweet scent of orange blossoms. Prefers full sun and moist, organic, well drained soils. Will tolerate light shade and moist soils. Prune after flowering, can be pruned heavily to rejuvenate an old plant. Transplants well. Hardy to zone 4, if protected perhaps in zone 3.  Snow Dwarf is a fragrant dwarf reaching just 2 to 3 feet tall.  Bred in Canada, it is truly hardy in zone 4 without protection.  Blooms prolifically in spring, and will thrive in sun or part shade.  Philadelphus lewisii ‘Blizzard’ is even hardier, hardy in zones 3-7, and larger, reaching 4-5’high and 3’ wide.  Clusters of fragrant single whit blooms cover the shrub from early to mid summer, lasting as long as 4 weeks.


Mountain Laurel:  (Kalmia latifolia)  Part sun  Kalmia latifolia 'Elf' by James GaitherHardy in zones 5-9   Flowering shrub.  Preferring a dappled sun, Mountain Laurel performs well along a woodland edge, particularly where the soil is rich and pH is acidic.  This is a fabulous spring blooming shrub if you have the right place for it.  It will not perform well in full sun or full shade, and does like cool moist soil that is acidic and organically enriched.  Also avoid exposing it to harsh wind.  The shrub will be compact and rounded in fuller sun, more open and loose in shade.  Mountain Laurel produces showy flowers in late spring.  The blooms are produced in 4-6” clusters of 1” cup shaped blooms and are borne above glossy deep green foliage.  In full sun foliage may tend to be more yellow.  Even in cold and snow, the foliage remains evergreen Kalmia 'Elf' blooms by James Gaitherthrough winter, although some varieties do not fare well in the more northern zones.  Kalmia is often referred to as Sheep Laurel or Sheep Poison, as the foliage is toxic if eaten, to both animals and humans.  Do not plant where animals may graze or “taste” the foliage or if small children may be in the gardens.  There are many varieties available.  ‘Elf’ is one of the more commonly grown varieties for a number of reasons.  It is quite tolerant of the cold and often thrives in zone 4b, perhaps even 4a if in a protected place in the landscape and heavily mulched in winter.  It was also the first dwarf available, making it ideal for the front of the border of foundation plantings.  It grows slow and compact Kalmia  'Bullseye'reaching only 2 to 3 feet high and wide.  However, very young plants grow vigorously, and should be pruned to keep them from getting leggy.  Pink buds open to white blooms in May and June.  ‘Elf’ is hardy in zones 5-8, 4 if protected.  ‘Bullseye’  is one of the very colorful varieties with blooms of white and red-purple.  Blooms are not produced when young.  Its’ growth habit is upright and vigorous, reaching 6 to 9 feet tall and wide.  The blooms may last three or more weeks in May and June.  Will not tolerate the cold of zone 4, but withstand the heat of zone 9. ‘Olympic Wedding’ has bloom coloring very similar to ‘Bullseye’‘Olympic Wedding’  grows to about 6’ high with a 5’ spread and is hardy in zones 5 - 7 in the South, zone 8 in the West.  ‘Olympic Fire’ is a very popular variety, Kalmia 'Olympic Fire' by James Gaitherwith blooms that begin with a bright red bud, quite stunning along a woodland border.  Once opened,  pink blooms fade to pink tinged white.  Bloom is a tad later, opening in early June.  The shrub grows at a moderate rate of about 4-6 inches per year, reaching up to 4 or 5 feet tall and wide, but could get larger in ideal conditions.  Form is dense and rounded.  Kalmia grown in moist shade can be susceptible to leaf spot, but ‘Olympic Fire’ is quite resistant.  Hardy in zones 5 - 8.  With winter protection, it may survive in zone 4.


Nanking Cherry:  (Prunus tomentosa)  Full Sun  Flowering Prunus tomentosa 'Nanking Cherry'shrub  Hardy in zones 2-6.  This is a densely twiggy shrub that becomes more open and quite picturesque with age.  Fragrant white flowers bloom early in spring and produce edible fruit that ripens in June or July.  Bark is reddish and exfoliating.  Medium to dark green foliage becomes yellow in fall.  Must have full sun and will tolerate wind and drought.  Great for windbreaks.  Grows moderately quickly and is relatively short lived.  May begin to deteriorate after 10 years.  Reaches 8-10 feet high and 10-15 feet wide.


Ninebark:  (Physocarpus)  Full sun to part shade Flowering shrub  Hardy in zones 2-7.  Ninebark is a super hardy shrub, most are cold hardy to zones 2 or 3.  They will grow well in soils that are dry, moist or wet, tolerate compacted soil, and alkaline soil.  Will tolerate windy sites as well.  They are a very serviceable shrub, though not all are particularily beautiful.  Most will need regular pruning to maintain a good shape, and are quite tolerant of severe pruning and shearing.  But for difficult sites, for screening, or backdrop, they will do an excellent job and remain healthy in some poor conditions.  For such needs, choose the ‘Nana’, which is 4-6’ high and wide, ‘Dart’s Gold’, or‘Luteus’.

Physocarpus opulifolius 'Coppertina' NinebarkCoppertina’ is one of the more lovely Ninebark, with an upright vase shape form.  Foliage is copper colored when young and matures to a rich red.  Small white button flowerettes appear in mid summer, followed by red fruits in late summer to fall.  Flower buds are set in late summer, so pruning should be done right after blooms have faded.  Best color develops when grown in full sun.  It reaches 6-8’ high and 3-4’ wide.  Excellent in groups or masses, as a foundation planting, or in the shrub or perennial border.  It grows quickly, and provides all season color and interest.  Hardy to zone 3.


Physocarpus opulifolius 'Dart's Gold' Ninebark‘Dart’s Gold’ is a basic, but tough Ninebark, and the yellow gold foliage is a nice contrast to deep greens in the landscape or gardens.  It is fairly compact is it’s growth habit, reaching 4-5’ high and wide.  White flowers appear in early summer, and red fruits develop in mid to late summer.  ‘Dart’s Gold’ is a very vigorous grower, but prunes or shears well.  Hardy in zones 2-7.


Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diablo' Ninebark‘Diablo’ is perhaps one of the most appealing of the Ninebark, with beautiful purple burgundy foliage that has a very nice mounded growing habit.  Generally reaches about 5-6’ high and 4-5’ wide, but can grow larger.  Creamy white flower clusters in June contrast wonderfully against the dark foliage, and fruits are reddish, but still stand out against the dark leaves.  Best color is developed in full sun in more northern growing zones.  (‘Diablo’ is trademarked, you may also find it marketed as ‘Monlo’ or ‘Diabolo’.)


Physocarpus opulifolius 'Summer Wine' Ninebark‘Summer Wine’ is very similar to ‘Diablo’, but is a more compact plant at 4-6’ high and wide.  Foliage is a finely cut reddish purple, and should be grown in full sun for best color.  Pinkish white flower clusters appear in May and June.  Flower buds are set in late summer, so pruning should be done right after blooms have faded.  (‘Summer Wine’ is also trademarked, you may find it marketed as ‘Seward’.)  Hardy in zones 3-7.


Potentilla: (Cinquefoil)  Full sun  Hardy in zones 2-6Hardy Flowering Shrub Pontentilla  Flowering shrub.  Referring to the woody bush, this 2-3' mounded plant produces tiny bright flowers. This one has blurry lines between herbaceous perennial and woody shrub.  You will find both types as potentilla and/or cinquefoil, cinquefoil simply being the old French common name.  If you select one hardy to your zone, with the physical characteristics you choose, it doesn’t really matter.  The shrubby potentilla prefers moist well drained soils, but is very tolerant of either wet or dry, and very tolerant of alkaline and compacted soils.  It is also drought tolerant and blooms from spring til frost.  If you think potentilla has been overused, it is because it is so very hardy and easy to grow.  There are many nice varieties and bloom colors available, although the yellow are the old standby so commonly seen.  Trim it in very late autumn or early winter while dormant if you like, or just let it grow to its’ full size.  It will usually retain a pretty nice shape without trimming.  It is very tolerant of severe renewal pruning, but removing old branches to the ground with a light shearing periodically will keep the shrub fresh.  Hardy in zones 2-6 depending on variety.  May need part shade in the warmer climates to retain good bloom color.

Potentilla fruticosa 'Abbotswood'Potentilla fruticosa ‘Abbotswood’ is a dense, spreading shrub, making it nice for a low hedge.  Growing habit is mounded with upright branches.  Perhaps the best white flowering potentilla, the blooms are large and set off nicely against the blue green foliage.  Blooms from spring to fall.  Grows to 3 feet high and wide.  Best in full sun.  Hardy in zones 2-6.


Potentilla fruticosa 'Gold StarPotentilla fruticosa ‘Gold Star’ produces an abundance of 2”golden yellow blooms all summer.  Deep green delicate leaves and a compact, mounded growing habit make a lovely specimen plant.  It is a low grower, so it also works well as a ground cover or to “hold a hill”.  It will also do well in a container, but make sure to give it a good sized pot.  Thrives in full sun.  Grows quickly to 2 feet high and 2-3 feet wide.  Hardy in zones 3-9.

Potentilla fruticosa 'Mango Tango'Potentilla fruticosa ‘Mango Tango’ is a lovely newer introduction, developed at the University of Manitoba.  Bi-color flowers have a yellow base, with orange and red markings radiating from the center.  2” blooms are produced throughout the summer, shearing after the first spring flush of bloom will encourage reblooming.  In cool weather the blooms are more red and orange, developing more yellow as the summer heats up.  Very adaptable to poor soil and wet or dry conditions.  Neat and compact growing habit makes it a good choice for border planting.  Reaches 2 feet high and wide and grows well in full sun to part shade.  Hardy in zones 2-7.


Potentilla fruticosa 'Pink Beauty'Potentilla fruticosa ‘Pink Beauty’ is a small rounded shrub that grows vigorously.  Blooms are an intense pink in cooler weather, softening to a blush pink in summer heat.  Bright green foliage is fine and lush.  Compact mounded growth habit, reaches 2-3 feet high and wide. Does well in full sun to part shade.  Hardy in zones 2-7.


Potentulla fruticosa 'Sunset'Potentilla fruticosa ‘Sunset’ has rich bright orange-red and yellow blooms from early summer to frost.  In part shade color will be more red, in full sun more yellow.  ‘Sunset’ is very hardy and long lived.  Generally grows to about 2 feet high and 3 feet wide, but can get larger.  Unpruned, the shrub may get a little leggy and sprawling.  Hardy in zones 2-7.


Potentilla fruticosa 'Sir William Rollinson'Potentilla atrosanguinea ‘William Rollinson’ is a wonderful low growing plant that produces masses of red orange double blooms with yellow highlights all summer. Grows in neat mounds of silvery backed foliage.  Excellent as a ground cover, in a rock garden, or accenting landscaping or perennial beds.  Performs best in full sun.  Does not like hot or cold extremes.  Grows to 16-24” high and 15-20” wide.  Hardy in zones 4-8.


Privet:  (Ligustrum)  Privet shrubs are so commonly used as a hedging Privet hedgeplant that they are referred to as privet hedge.  As a specimen plant, the privet is not particularly appealing, but they take to frequent shearing so well that they are used nearly exclusively for hedges.  Privet prefer part shade to full sun, and slightly wet soil, tolerating a wide pH range.  Some are semi-evergreen or evergreen, depending on variety and your growing zone.  None are evergreen in the north.  They are also poisonous, can have ill effects on asthma and excema sufferers, and can be invasive.  If the drawbacks are not a problem for you, there is not better hedging plant that can tolerate constant shearing and severe pruning.  There are several species of privet with different qualities. 


Ligustrum vulgareCommon Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) are hardy in zones 5-8.  White flower clusters at the ends of branches are abundant midsummer, but have an unpleasant scent.  Fruits ripen to purple-black.  Prefers full sun to part shade, and moist well drained soil.  Tolerant of alkaline soil and windy conditions.  Can reach 12-15’ high and 10-12’ wide if left unpruned. ‘Cheyenne’ is the most cold hardy, to zone 4, ‘Lodense’ is a compact variety growing to only 5 feet.


Privet Golden VicaryGolden Vicary (Ligustrum x vicaryi)  Hardy in zones 5-8.  Has golden yellow foliage when grown in full sun, will be green in part shade.  Creamy white flowers with an unpleasant scent appear in late spring.  Prefers a moist well drained soil.  Will tolerate windy conditions.  Grows to 6-12’ tall and 8-10’ wide if left unpruned.


Amur Privet (Ligustrum amurense) are hardy in zones 3-6.  It blooms in late spring with white flowers, then develop black fruit in late summer.  Prefers a little drier soil conditions than most privet, does not like wet soil.  Tolerant of alkaline soil and windy conditions.  Can grow to 12-15’ high and 8-10’ wide if left unpruned.

Japanese wax privetJapanese or wax privet (Ligustrum japonicum) are hardy in zones 7-10.  Blooms in summer with white flowers, then develop black fruit in late summer.  Leaves are thick, evergreen and glossy.  Displays good fall color.  Growth habit is vigorous and dense, reaching 15-18’ if left unpruned.  Will tolerate a little drier soil conditions than most privet, and more shade.


Privet, large floweringChinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense)are hardy in zones 7-10.  Foliage is dark semi-evergreen but is also available with yellow white variegated leaves.  Small white flower clusters are unnoticed against the variegated leaves.  Grows rapidly to 12’ high and 10’ high if left unpruned.


Purple Leaf Plum: (Prunus cistena)  Full sun  Hardy Flowering Shrub Purple Leaf Plum Hardy in zones 4-9.  This Sandcherry shrub is commonly grown in the north because of it's reliability and hardiness. The 6-8' bush sprouts bright red leaves in spring with tiny pink flowers. Well drained acid soil will bring out the best leaf color, but will tolerate alkaline soil as well as heat and drought.  Leaves turn red-purple, then maroon by fall. A nice color contrast to greens in the landscape.   Prunus cerasifera is a larger version, that can grow to 25’ high and wide in a rounded shape.  It grows fairly quickly, which tends to shorten a shrubs life.  Both shrubs seem reliably hardy in zone 3.


Purpleleaf Sand Cherry (Prunus x cistena)  Full sun  'Purpleleaf Sand Cherry'Flowering Shrub  Hardy in zones 3-7.  This tall shrub is generally grown for it’s unique foliage color.  Leaves open bright red in spring, stay intense reddish purple all summer and turn more red in autumn.  The shrub is covered in fragrant, small, blushed white blooms in May.  Beautiful as a specimen shrub or as a tall hedge, it does take pruning well.  Prefers a moist well drained soil.  Purpleleaf Sand Cherry does not live a long life, and may begin to delcline after 10 years.  Reaches 7-8 feet tall and wide. 


Flowering Quince: (Chaenomeles japonica) Full Sun to part Hardy Flowering Shrub Flowering Quinceshade  Hardy in zones 4-8  Flowering shrub.  This "fairy fire" blooms bright red, peach pink, or orange in spring. Foliage opens red bronze and turns dark green in summer.  Excellent at the back of a border, hedge or foundations planting. Grows 3-5 feet, zone 4. C. x superba 'Cameo' produces large semi double flowers in coral pink. ‘Jet Trail’ has white flowers and grows to about 3 feet.  ‘Texas Scarlet’ is covered with red flowers and is smaller, at 2-3 1/2 feet.  Quince prefers moist well drained soil, by will tolerate some dryness, also prefers a slightly acidic soil.  Grows to 5 feet, most cultivars hardy to zone 5.


Rhododendron:  Part to full shade  Hardy in zones 4-7  Flowering shrub.  Like the Azalea, no Rhododendron is hardy north of zone 4.  Again, a few varieties have been bred to withstand the northern cold. Smaller varieties of Rhododendron, 'Yaku Princess' (Azalea) and the newer 'Firestorm' are also hardy up to zone 4.  There are an incredible number of cultivars hardy enough to grow in zones 5-7.  The ‘P.J.M’ varieties are evergreen as well as some of the ‘Girard’ azaleas.  Winter sun and wind can damage the evergreen foliage, so select an appropriate spot (keeping in mind sun and wind patterns are not the same summer to winter).  Rhododendrons are shallow rooted and should not be planted too deep.  They prefer a cool, moist organic soil and are not tolerant of dry periods, make sure they get enough water.  They do require acid.  Acidic fertilizers made for rhododendrons will help, yellowing of the foliage is an indicator of low acid. Rhododendrons continue to grow well into autumn and are susceptible to early freeze damage.  Water thoroughly until the ground freezes to allow the plant to properly acclimate to winter.  (Also see the Azalea listings.)

Hardy Flowering Shrub Rhododendron PJM'P.J.M.' (R. carolinianum x dauricum) is one of the hardiest of the hybrids.  It is a small leafed variety that prefers well-drained acidic soil with even moisture.  The bushy plant blooms heavily with pink flowers early in spring. Blooming begins at an early age, unlike many that need a few years to mature before blooming.  Glossy dark leaves turn mahogany in winter, holding on most, if not all of winter. Grows to 6 feet high and 7 feet wide in part shade, but is more sun tolerant than large leaf cultivars, but should be protected from winter sun.  Hardy in zones 4-7.


Rhododendron 'Northern Starburst'‘Northern Starburst’ is an improved, much more sturdy, variety of ‘P.J.M’.  It is an early bloomer, in May, with strong stems.  Clusters of mauve flowers have more substance than the ‘P.J.M.”.  It has a compact growing habit that reaches 4-5 feet high and 2-5 feet wide.  Leaves are thick and leathery, turning mahogany in autumn.  Grows well in sun to part shade.  Hardy in zones 4-7.


Rhododendron 'Haaga'‘Haaga’ is one of the Marjatta hygrids from Helsinki, Finland.  It is one of the best large leaf Rhododendrons for the north, bred from a very tough Korean species.  ‘Haaga’ is a super hardy upright shrub with dark green evergreen foliage.  Dark pink flower buds appear in May and June, and open to a lighter pink with dark streaks.  It must have excellent drainage, mulch and peat moss soil additive.  It will not do well in wind.  It prefers shade to part shade and may reach 5-7’ tall and 4-5’ wide.  Hardy in zones 3-8.


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