The Best Flowering Shrubs and Bushes in the U.S.

Updated on March 21, 2018
Will Apse profile image

The author is a biologist who worked in conservation, aquatic biology, and woodland management over many years.

Some popular shrubs in the US
Some popular shrubs in the US

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:

  • Viburnum
  • Lilac
  • Rhododendrons and Azealas
  • Hydrangea
  • Berberis
  • Indian Hawthorne
  • Butterfly Bush

1. Rhododendrons and Azaleas

White Rhododendrons
White Rhododendrons

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.

'Kirin Pink Beauty'
'Kirin Pink Beauty'

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).

Rhododendron kiusianum growing in the mountains of Japan
Rhododendron kiusianum growing in the mountains of Japan

2. Viburnum

The classic Viburnum utile (Service Viburnum)
The classic Viburnum utile (Service Viburnum)

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,

The Chinese Snowball Viburnum
The Chinese Snowball Viburnum
Viburnum berries are a huge decorative bonus!
Viburnum berries are a huge decorative bonus!

3. Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas can add great displays to borders
Hydrangeas can add great displays to borders

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.

Hydrangea colors are often soft and subtle
Hydrangea colors are often soft and subtle

4. Berberis

Berberis produce big flower displays
Berberis produce big flower displays

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.

Berberis berries
Berberis berries

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.

5. Lilac

Lilac in full flower
Lilac in full flower

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.

Lilac flowers in spring
Lilac flowers in spring

6. Butterfly Bush

Butterflies on a purple variety
Butterflies on a purple variety

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.

Buddleja flowers
Buddleja flowers

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:

  • holly
  • hibiscus
  • camellia
  • jasmine
  • juniper
  • cotoneaster
  • the beauty bush.
  • weiliga

Some roses are genuine, woody shrubs and have great range.

Native Shrubs

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:

Questions & Answers


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      • rajan jolly profile image

        Rajan Singh Jolly 

        5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

        Will, an excellent list and description of some wonderfully beautiful plants for the garden. Lovely vibrant photos as well.

        voting up, beautiful and useful.

      • Will Apse profile imageAUTHOR

        Will Apse 

        5 years ago

        Shrubs certainly get about! Weigela was originally imported from East Asia by a German of the name 'Weigela', apparently.

        I am planning on doubling the number of plants on this page and I promise Weigela will get a well deserved mention.

      • Kate Mc Bride profile image

        Kate McBride 

        5 years ago from Donegal Ireland

        Was just thinking of weigela as I was reading this and see you had it in your comment.Flowering currant goes along with weigela for Spring flowering here in Ireland.I like the garden too but have no flowers this year-only new shrubs. It is interesting to see that the same stuff grows in US as in UK and Ireland. I enjoyed this hub-am away to read another one.

      • Will Apse profile imageAUTHOR

        Will Apse 

        6 years ago

        Weigela is a wonderful shrub. I don't know why it slipped my mind when I wrote this page- it is a favorite of my mother. If I can find a photo I will post it above.

      • putnut profile image


        6 years ago from Central Illinois or wherever else I am at the moment.

        Here it comes! I was going to mention that you left out weigela, but now I would feel guilty. I also enjoy lilacs, and here in Illinois they grow well, but slowly (4-6 inches a year) and flower profusely, smelling wonderful!

        Also, here in the midwest, Rhododendron actually do well with a little care, and I know where there is one almost 8 feet high! (I wish I knew how)

      • Will Apse profile imageAUTHOR

        Will Apse 

        6 years ago

        Thanks, Deborah-Diane. I am sort of bracing myself for all those people who will tell me that I missed this shrub or that shrub, so it is nice to get a get a kind word first!

      • Deborah-Diane profile image


        6 years ago from Orange County, California

        Wow! These flowering shrubs and bushes are gorgeous, and I love your photos. Well done!


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