Plans for planting a shrub garden

Updated February 21, 2017

Ornamental shrubs add visual interest and value to both cottage gardens and urban landscapes. They offer colourful spring flowers, summer greenery, brilliant fall foliage and winter decoration. There are literally hundreds of different varieties of shrubs from which to choose, both deciduous and evergreen in a plethora of shapes and sizes. Preparation and planning are essential in creating a shrub garden that will grace your home for decades.

Design and planning

Consider the type of shrub garden you wish to create. Are you planting for erosion control, to provide habitat and food for birds and wildlife or as a decorative accent foundation grouping? Take photos of your home and surrounding landscape. Use a tape measure to take accurate measurements of the garden dimensions. Make several sketches of the type of shrub arrangements possible for the allotted space.

Plan the colour arrangement you would like to achieve, season to season. Evergreen shrubs provide deep green colour year-round. Deciduous shrubbery offers early spring colour and leaf interest, and many species have berries or seeds that attract songbirds. Make sketches of the colour scheme for each season. Drawing these arrangements will assist in choosing different shrub species to achieve your desired effect.


Research shrubs native to your local area. Native shrubs will prove to be the hardiest and most dependable plants. Visit garden centres and landscape professionals to determine price and availability. Shop online for unusual ornamental specimens that will grow well in your USDA hardiness zone. Research each shrub's growing requirements to determine if your selection is suitable for your landscape location. Select variates that are drought and disease resistant. Evaluate the maintenance requirements of the shrubs you are considering. Some species look best when constantly pruned and shaped. Topiary shrubbery is a high-maintenance type of planting.

Most shrubs grow best in a sunny location in well-drained nutrient-rich soil. When choosing shrubs and deciding where to plant them, consider the size the shrub will reach at maturity. Allow plenty of room for growth and development. Shrubs that are crowded will be stunted and not achieve their full potential.

Test and amend the soil

Test the soil. Take a sample of the soil from the planting area to your local county extension office or garden centre to check the pH levels and nutrient content. Most shrubs prefer a pH of 6 to 6.5. Amend the soil as recommended. If the soil test shows a low pH, add dolomite (calcium and magnesium). An application of 0.454kg )1 pound). of dolomite, applied to 100 square feet of growing area, will raise the pH level by one point.

Site preparation

Dig or till the planting area, removing rocks, weeds and roots. Prepare a mixture of one part organic compost, one part peat moss, one part topsoil, one part sand and one part aged nontreated sawdust. Mix well. Apply 8 to 12 layers of this mixture to the shrub garden and cultivate deep into the soil to prepare the site for planting.

Choosing shrubs

Once you have decided on the colour, height and width of your shrub garden arrangement, it is time to choose which shrubs will fulfil your design requirements. Shrubs are available bare-rooted, balled and burlap-wrapped or container-planted. Select straight, sturdy, healthy plants with well-developed root systems and evidence of new growth.

Planting time

Plant shrubs in late fall or early winter. Newly planted shrubs can withstand the cool and damp weather better than the arid and heated days of summer.

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About the Author

A passionate writer for more than 30 years, Marlene Affeld writes of her love of all things natural. Affeld's passion for the environment inspires her to write informative articles to assist others in living a green lifestyle. She writes for a prominent website as a nature travel writer and contributes articles to other online outlets covering wildlife, travel destinations and the beauty of nature.