How to Design a Perennial Garden With Shrubs

Overview

Shrubs often serve as anchor plants in the landscape, providing foliage color and texture. Perennial shrubs spice up the landscape when in bloom and form a nice backdrop to flowering perennials at other times. Designing a perennial garden with shrubs requires evaluating the site and creating a plan to blend new plants into the larger landscape.

Creating a Plan

Step 1

Measure the length and width of the potential garden plot. Devise a scale such as 1/4 inch on paper equals 1 foot on land to create a representative drawing of the perennial garden space. Draw the outline and include distinctive landscape features and nearby structures.

Step 2

Include permanent plants such as trees and existing shrubs that will remain in the garden plot. Measure the width of the plants and the distance from garden edges for accuracy.

Step 3

Watch how the sun affects the garden plot over a day. Sections with no direct sun at all are considered shade areas. Partial shade gardens experience dappled light through tree canopies, early morning or late afternoon sun. Partial sun garden plants rely on 4 to 6 hours of sun each day. Full sun plants tolerate direct exposure throughout daylight hours. Use this information to choose plants exactly suited to the sunlight requirements in the location.

Step 4

Determine the correct USDA hardiness zone for your location (see Resources). Compare your location color with the average annual minimum temperature map key. This color band denotes the lowest temperature that a perennial can successfully overwinter in a location. Write down your planting zone on your drawing.

Step 5

Take a soil sample to the garden center to determine quality. Boosting soil nutrient content before planting is easier than trying to amend soil after shrubs have been planted.

Choosing Perennial Shrubs

Step 1

Visit the garden center to check perennial shrub offerings for your location. Nurseries typically sell plants tolerant to local growing conditions and climate. Examine plant labels to check for sunlight requirements, growing conditions and spacing needs of each plant.

Step 2

Note your favorites based on foliage characteristics and flower color. Deciduous shrubs lose foliage in the fall; evergreens retain foliage throughout the year. Evergreens provide landscape color through four seasons as well as an excellent backdrop for annual and perennial flowers. The unique blooms of a deciduous flowering shrub provide a few weeks of stunning color and foliage interest the remainder of the growing season.

Step 3

Check the mature growth size of each plant. Mature growth refers to the maximum height and width of an adult plant. This determination helps with placement and the allowance of plenty of room within the landscape design. Don't forget height considerations to limit potential blocking of other landscape features, windows or structures.

Step 4

Draw circles on the scaled drawing to depict your perennial shrub choices. Use the mature width measurements of each plant. Juvenile shrubs won't take up much space in the garden initially. Space allowances prevent the need for future transplant of a large, mature shrub.

Step 5

Fill in the gaps in your perennial shrub garden design with small additions such as low growing perennials or annual plants. Perennial and annual flowers are easily moved to accommodate spreading perennial shrubs.

Things You'll Need

  • USDA hardiness zone map
  • Paper
  • Pencil and eraser
  • Ruler
  • Measuring tape
  • Soil test kit

References

  • Cornell University: Flower Garden Design Basics
  • University of Illinois: Introduction to Perennial Garden Design
  • Colorado State University: Deciduous Shrubs

Who Can Help

  • The United States National Arboretum: USDA Hardiness Zone Map
  • University of Illinois: Perennial Shrub Selector
Keywords: perennial shrub gardens, design shrub landscape, selecting shrubs

About this Author

S.F. Heron is an avid gardener with three years of experience in online writing and a working background in aviation and earth and ocean sciences. She is published on various sites, including Helium, eHow and Xomba. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.