The Best Flowering Shrubs and Bushes in the U.S.
The flowering shrubs and bushes on this page are the most popular in the U.S. with good reason. They are not only beautiful; they are also versatile and easy-to-grow.
They can be used individually to add interest to any part of a garden. They can also be used in groups to provide privacy or act as windbreaks. Many varieties do well in shade under trees, bringing color and life to otherwise gloomy areas.
Most of these plants will attract bird and insect life, adding sound and movement as well as scent and color to a garden. I would have to say that a garden without shrubs is not really a garden!
On this page:
- Rhododendrons and Azealas
- Indian Hawthorne
1. Rhododendrons and Azaleas
There are so many varieties of Rhododendron that multi-volume encyclopedias exist to describe them all. There are species that are entirely native to the the US. There are species that have been brought in from the Himalayas and many other regions.
The massive popularity of Rhododendrons is based on the toughness of the plant, the mass of flowers many varieties produce, the attractive nature of the foliage and the capacity to grow well in shade or sun.
Azealas are very closely related plants but are shorter and more twiggy. They are almost all deciduous whereas Rhododendron are generally evergreen. It is worth asking for this detail before you choose a variety for a garden.
Between the rhododendrons and azaleas, there are varieties to suit almost every region- except for the Mid West.
Where do Rhododendrons Come From?
Rhododendrons are native to mountainous areas in Asia and are found from the Himalayas to Japan.
They have adapted well to US conditions and grow wild in many states such as Washington (the Purple Rhododendron is the state flower).
Plenty of landscape designers will tell you that Viburnum is their favorite shrub.
There are so many species that it is always possible to find one to suit a particular need. There are varieties which will do well in wet soil or drought prone soils and in full sun or in shade.
They will flower copiously from spring to summer and the berries are especially vivid and popular with bird life.
Classic viburnums tend to be rangy with widespread flowers. The newer varieties and imports like the Snowball Viburnum, pictured below, have a denser growth pattern,
Hydrangea bushes have come back into fashion recently. The newer varieties have more reliable flower color and are more tolerant of different soils.
It is still worth checking if your soil is acid or alkaline before choosing a particular variety. Sometimes, a little lime will need to be added to soil to get the best results.
Hydrangea macrophylla (Big Leaf or French Hydrangea) is the single most popular species. A recent, highly successful variety, is Limelight which has exceptionally large and numerous white flowers.
Mophead and Lacecap Hydrangeas are more traditional forms with beautiful blue or pink flowers.
If you need a cold tolerant hydrangea, Panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata) is a good choice. Some hydrangeas will need partial shade in very sunny states.
Growing zones, 3-9, depending on the variety.
Spiny but Beautiful
There are a total of 450 species of Berberis. Some are deciduous some are evergreen shrubs
Most species have attractive fall foliage and huge numbers of flowers in the spring. These develop into equally attractive berries which linger for a long period.
The spines make Berberis an ideal bush to keep out intruders and it is often used around vulnerable windows. As a hedge it will deter animal intruders as well as people- it is deer tolerant too.
Berberis thunbergii 'Golden Nugget' is a popular, yellow green, dwarf variety.
Japanese barberry is a red leaved, fast growing species that is considered invasive in some regions especially the Pacific North East- it spreads quickly by seeds and can invade natural areas.
Wintergreen barberry is an extremely hardy evergreen and can tolerate both drought and hard pruning.
4. Indian Hawthorne
Indian Hawthorne are compact evergreen shrubs which flower in early spring producing berries that will attract plenty of bird life. They are low maintenance plants with few pest problems.
A variety like 'Pinkie' will grow as high as 6 feet. Most varieties are shorter at around 3 feet.
'Ballerina' and 'Indian Princess' are 2 of the most popular varieties in the US.
This is a compact shrub well suited to warmer and temperate states. It sheds its leaves in winter but in summer, flowers for long periods. The wonderful scent and large flowers of the common lilac make it a popular specimen bush.
Some larger varieties are classified as trees.
Most varieties of lilac grow well in zones 3 to 7.
6. Butterfly Bush
The Butterfly Bush (Buddleja or Buddleia)
The Butterfly Bush is named for its ability to attract butterflies. The large scented flowers are apparently irresistible to insects as well as people.
Buddleja davidii is a fast growing shrub with an arching habit and grows up to 15 feet high.
It is robust and very fast growing but not especially cold tolerant. It can either be killed or stunted by harsh Northern winters.
In some states it is considered an invasive weed because it grows so easily.
Other Wonderful Shrubs
There are so many wonderful shrubs available and many new varieties of popular species are introduced every year.
A few shrubs that could have made the list above include:
- the beauty bush.
Some roses are genuine, woody shrubs and have great range.
Native shrubs are especially good at providing habitats for wildlife. They are also never invasive and that helps to boost their popularity among eco-conscious gardeners.
Here is a searchable database of native American plants including shrubs: http://www.wildflower.org/plants/