Shrubs are the backbone of the garden, with evergreens providing the base and deciduous flowers the pizazz. Here are some of our favorite deciduous shrubs we’ve grown this year. These are in no particular order and were chosen based on three criteria: Beauty, usefulness in the landscape, and ease of growth for zones 6-7 in Western North Carolina. This area is known for its diverse plant life, heavy clay soil, and yo yo spring weather.
Be sure to check out our other lists as we look back on our favorite plants of the 2023 season!
1. Buddleia, Miss Molly
Breeding of butterfly bushes has come a long way. Most of the newer varieties have a much better growth habit than the older, wilder varieties and don’t self-seed all over the place. You can now enjoy these very long blooming plants almost anywhere you like in the landscape. Miss Molly barely edges out the Pugster series because of the beautiful Fuschia blooms and almost as compact of a growth habit. If you want something even more dwarf, look to the Pugster series, also from Proven Winners. We’ll be growing a lot of these in 2024!
2. Callicarpa X, Pearl Glam
Pearl Glam is an improvement in almost every way to American beautyberry. We love its dark foliage, which keeps it interesting from the minute it wakes up in spring. Long blooming in the summer, then beautiful berries in fall. It’s also much more compact, growing just 6′ or so, and easily pruned if needed.
3. Calycanthus X, Aphrodite
Like Pearl Glam above, Aphrodite is a big improvement over the straight native species. The blooms are much larger and it just keeps on re-blooming well into summer. We haven’t noticed much scent on this one, but it’s a beauty, and a fast grower too!
4. Hydrangea paniculata, Little Quick Fire
We love panicle hydrangeas of all kinds for growing around Asheville, NC. They bloom late spring to fall on new wood and don’t seem to be bothered by much of anything except the occasional deer. Little Quick Fire is an interesting variety out of the many on the market today. The blooms aren’t as big and showy individually, but it’s unique to the species as they have a nice bronze/yellow fall color. It won us over this year.
5. Hydrangea arborescens, Incrediball Blush
Native hydrangea arborescens are often thought of as ‘snowball bush’ down here in the South. We especially like Incrediball, and this one, Incrediball blush.
6. Clethra, Ruby Spice
Clethra is a great native plant that’s easy to grow, versatile, and doesn’t take over your garden. Fragrant summer blooms that the pollinators love and brilliant yellow fall color too!
7. Illicium, Star Power Scorpio
A fantastic shrub for shade. Illicium is normally a little touchy here because of the cold, but the Star Power series was bred to be hardy down to zone 6. If you have a lot of deer, or tougher areas with a lot of moisture, Star Power Scorpio would be an excellent choice.
Oh, and an honorable mention, Fizzy Mizzy Itea. This is a really cool breakthrough for our native sweetspire, with a compact habit and blooms that stand up above the plant. We are looking forward to growing more of that one.