By Paul James
Shrubs rarely get the attention they deserve, and yet they tend to be among the most carefree plants in the landscape. Those that bloom in spring – azaleas and hydrangeas in particular – do briefly bask in the glory while in bloom, but it’s the summer bloomers that I find more rewarding, largely because their bloom period lasts so long. Aside from the obvious – crape myrtles and roses – here are some of my favorite summer-blooming shrubs.
Abelia: There was a time when there was only one Abelia on the market. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case. There are now over a dozen cultivars of this beautiful evergreen summer bloomer, and two in particular – ‘Rose Creek’ and ‘Kaleidoscope’ – are hard to beat. Rose Creek grows to about three-feet tall and wide, has dense green foliage and produces a profusion of white flowers. Kaleidoscope is a variegated variety that’s a tad smaller. It too produces white flowers.
Althea: Better known as Rose of Sharon, this deciduous shrub is as tough as it is beautiful, and its okra-like flowers (it’s actually related to okra) appear non-stop from summer to fall. Flowers are available in a variety of colors, including white, pink, red, violet, and blue. Most will grow to at least eight-feet tall, although dwarf cultivars are available.
Butterfly Bush: These are the most popular butterfly attractors on the market. But even if that weren’t the case, they’d be worth growing for their gorgeous colorful flowers that linger into fall. Plant in full sun, and prune back hard in early spring.
Chaste Tree: I know, I’ve mentioned this shrub in the genus Vitex quite a few times, but that’s only because I adore it. It blooms throughout the summer, and it’s pretty much always covered with bees, bumblebees, butterflies, and moths. And the best news of all? You can get a dwarf variety called ‘Blue Puffball’ that only tops out at three, maybe four feet.
Desert Willow: Blooming from spring through summer with large, orchid-like flowers, this drought-tolerant beauty makes a great specimen. Yes, it can get rather large for a shrub, as in 20-feet tall, but something so beautiful deserves to get big, don’t you think? And by the way, the Desert Willow isn’t a willow at all.
Oak Leaf Hydrangea: Okay, so here’s another shrub I brag about often, but so does just about everyone I know who grows it. Seriously, this is a hydrangea that tolerates sun, produces jaw-dropping white flowers, and is about as easy to grow as crabgrass. Oh yeah, and its fall color is pretty nice, too.
Spirea: Two of the best summer-blooming Spirea are ‘Neon Flash’ and ‘Magic Carpet,’ and you can’t go wrong with either. The former produces neon-red flowers, while the latter boasts rosy-pink blooms. Both are deciduous and grow to about three-feet tall and wide.