By Julie Martens Forney
Count on low-maintenance shrubs to add steady color to planting beds. Dark-leaf shrubs, such as Black Lace elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Eva’), weave a dramatic thread into perennial plantings. This shrub prefers moist soil (but can take dry), and stages a striking backdrop for gold and variegated perennials.
Deer-resistant shrub? Elderberry reportedly resists deer, but the first year in my Mid-Atlantic garden, deer wouldn’t leave it alone; I had to net it completely to ensure its survival. Since year 2 deer take the occasional nibble but have otherwise lost interest.
Good to know: Black Lace elderberry stands up to pruning. Because it tucks among perennials, I hard prune it in spring to reduce height. Some gardeners cut it to ground level, treating it like a perennial.
Variegated Red-twig Dogwood and Summer Wine Ninebark
Meet two more low-maintenance shrubs that look fantastic together: variegated redtwig dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’) and Summer Wine ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Seward’).
Summer Wine ninebark opens its pretty flowers in early summer.
In my garden this shrub provides a dark backdrop for pink-flowered cleome, zinnia, allium, and coneflower. Mature size is modest: 5 feet tall by 3 feet wide.
Two-tone leaves on variegated redtwig dogwood stir summer interest. The real show occurs in winter, when red stems sparkle against snow.
New growth offers strongest stem color. To encourage new growth, remove one-third of oldest stems in spring.
Deer-resistant shrubs? In my yard deer frequently browse branch tips of variegated redtwig dogwood but never touch Summer Wine ninebark.
Good to know: Stems from both shrubs provide wonderful filler for garden bouquets.
Winterberry is a low-maintenance shrub that’s been on my wish list for years. I finally planted a trio of ‘Sparkleberry’ winterberry (Ilex verticillata).
Green leaves turn gold in autumn before falling from stems. At that point red berries take center stage and linger well into winter.
Deer-resistant shrub? Occasionally deer nibble stem tips, mostly in winter, but they do little damage.
Good to know: ‘Sparkleberry’ winterberry grows 6 to 10 feet tall and forms a natural hedge. You can find shorter varieties as well.