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Shrubs add year-round structure and presence to a landscape. Learn how to use them effectively in your garden.

plants around birdbath

Shrubs make a handsome and lasting addition to the garden -- one that is often low-maintenance to boot. Here are some ways to use them in your landscape.

1) Pair with annuals. When you think of shrubs, you might envision large woody plants that are just one step down from trees. And some of them fit that description. But others don’t. There are many low-growing and dwarf varieties available these days. Like the golden juniper and burgundy barberry in the photo above, they make fine edging plants that mix easily with annuals. The big benefit: The shrubs remain even after the annuals have died.

shrubs and grasses

2) Grow beside perennials. If you like to grow tall perennials, then you know how valuable a few large ornamental grasses can be as a backdrop. Shrubs offer the same benefit -- only you won’t have to wait until fall for them to peak. Note how well the golden juniper, red shrub rose, and burgundy chokecherry work with the yellow and orange helenium. They anchor the bed before and after helenium’s late-summer show.

hydrangea by chair

3) Decorate an outdoor room. A wall of green wouldn’t do much for this pretty setting. Instead, a flowery hydrangea reaches its full glory, holding onto its blooms for weeks on end so that visitors can enjoy the spectacle. Even after the blooms fade, they still remain attractive.

white obelisk against green shrub

4) Back up a garden structure. This white obelisk might get lost against the house, but the bayberry behind the garden structure acts as a backdrop, setting off the garden structure with dramatic flair.

boxwood globes in concrete containers

5) Act as garden art. Topiary is one way of turning a shrub into a work of art. It can be something simple, like these globe-shaped boxwood, or something ornate, like you’d find at a botanical center. Either way you’re creating an instant focal point and conversation starter.

trees, shrubs and birdbath

6) Attract wildlife. Shrubs are invaluable for attracting birds and other wildlife. Evergreens offer year-round shelter and deciduous shrubs often bear fruit, nuts, or seeds for food. And all provide potential material for birds building nests.

row of evergreens in garden

7) Provide privacy. A row (or two) of arborvitae accomplishes more than a wall or stockade fence. It provides privacy, yet it looks as if it’s part of the garden. The same could be said of juniper, yew, or any other evergreen used as a screen.

evergreen mosaic

8) Complete a picture. When creating a landscape mosaic like this, shrubs complete the picture, helping the transition from taller trees to low-growing groundcovers and turf grass. While the pines, spruces, and hemlocks are attractive in their own right, they are “grounded” by the dwarf conifers and barberry in front. In effect, they look more at home.