The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Stop suffering from SDD - Shrub Deficit Disorder

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

I'm here to alert you to a landscape syndrome of monumental proportions. Ok maybe not monumental but at least middling proportions. We suffer silently and unknowingly from SDD - Shrub Deficit Disorder.

Why are we suffering? Why don't we use more shrubs? Look at the vast attributes of shrubs. Shrubs can give us four season beauty, flowers, fruits and low maintenance. We talk about perennials as though the herbaceous kind (aka daylilies and peonies) were the only kind of ornamental perennials. I say the correct placement and selection of shrubs can give you all the beauty and even less maintenance than herbaceous perennials.

First let's confront our fears. Why don't we use more shrubs? I say it is because of SDD's accompanying affliction of FOHES - Fear of House Eating Shrubs.

After all we have witnessed the voracious appetites of shrubs. We have seen them eat houses. We have seen them eat porches. They eat sidewalks and driveways. They even eat up our time with constant pruning. We snip a bit here and a bit there so we can at least pass by them without losing our glasses. We are afraid of pruning them too much that they might die. When all along we secretly wish they would die so we didn't have to keep pruning them. What they really need is a full tilt prune to within 6-8 inches of the ground.

But is their lustful appetite for space really their fault? What's a shrub to do to get us to like them? Usually problems arise when we plant shrubs in the wrong spot and expect them to behave. Like putting a kid in a candy store and expecting them not to eat anything. We expect a shrub listed at mature height of 6 feet to stay at 3 feet. Or often it is because we planted too many shrubs in one spot in our fog of plant label amnesia. So maybe it is their fault for being so cute and petite in their pots at the garden centers.

Shrubs, as pretty as any perpetual perennial, deserve a spot in your flower garden and not just around the foundation of the house. If you are ready to deal with your Shrub Deficit Disorder, I have a few suggestions.

Chardonnay Pearls® deutzia (Deutzia gracilis 'Duncan') reaches a very usable 3 feet. It is described as "that string of pearls for your garden that goes with everything". White flowers start as "strings" of pearl-like buds that explode into star-shaped fragrant flowers in mid to late May. Once the flowers fade the bright yellow leaves continue the show. Part shade is best since the yellow leaves can scorch in really hot, dry and full sun areas. Ok I didn't say they were perfect but worth a spot in your flower garden.

Little Henry® Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica 'Sprich') is a 3-4 feet tall shrub native to moist to wet areas. The lightly scented, pure white flowers shoot like fireworks across the plant. The green summer foliage changes to brilliant oranges and reds in fall. It will grow in full sun to full shade and requires little pruning or other maintenance.

Double Play® Artist spirea (Spiraea japonica 'Galen') is quite a little beauty at a compact 2 feet tall. Deep purple-red new growth starts the spring season followed by vibrant pink summer flowers. Like all spireas it is adaptable and easy to grow.

My Monet® Weigela ( Weigela florida 'Verweig') is a diminutive 12-18 inches tall with pink flowers in late spring and variegated green, white and pink leaves. Variegation changes depending on light exposure - whiter variegation in shade and pink variegation in full sun. Use as border in annual or perennial flower beds.

Stop suffering needlessly from SDD.

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