Flowers, berries, and colored foliage and stems on low plants and shrubs add interest to the garden all year. A combination of deciduous and evergreen plants and shrubs also provide seasonal interest. Low plants and shrubs can be used singly, in groups or with taller shrubs and trees.
When choosing low plants and shrubs, consider your climate and hardiness zone. Note how much sun and shade the planting area receives and if the area is protected from strong winds. Check the pH of the soil and observe if it is sand, clay, loam or a combination. Determine if the plant will depend on irrigation for water or just rainfall. Consult the local county extension office, garden centers and gardening books and websites to determine which plants meet your needs.
Plants and shrubs should be planted in early spring or early fall to allow the roots time to get established before extreme hot or cold temperatures. Set the plants at the same depth, as they were in the containers, and space them far enough apart they have room to grow to mature size. Mulch with a 3- to 4-inch layer of compost, organic matter or other mulch, but do not mound the mulch up on the trunk or trunks of the plants and shrubs. Water the them thoroughly at regular intervals until they are well established.
Hand pruners, lopping shears and pruning saws are used to prune plants and shrubs. About ¼ to 1/3 of the older stems should be removed each year to encourage new growth.
Prune plants and shrubs that flower before June immediately after blooming, because they form buds on last season's growth (old growth). Azaleas, deutzias and forsythias should be pruned immediately after blooming.
Prune plants and shrubs that flower after June in late winter or early spring because they form buds on the current season's growth (new growth). Prune dwarf abelias, Hills of Snow hydrangeas and dwarf crape myrtles early in the season.
Shade Plants and Shrubs
Oregon Grape Hollies (Mahonia aquifolium) grow 3 feet tall and can be used as an evergreen background for some perennial flowering plants in the shade. Spring blooming Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra spectabilis), summer flowering Japanese astilbes (Astilbe japonica), and cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis), which bloom in summer and fall, grow 2 to 3 feet tall and have white, pink or red flowers.
Sun Plants and Shrubs
Rock Spray Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis) has semi-evergreen foliage and can be used a groundcover in full sun. Both dwarf flowering almond (Prunus glandulosa) and slender deutzia (Deutzia gracilis) bear small white or pink flowers in the spring, while Hills of Snow Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens grandiflora) has large clusters of white flowers in the summer. All of these plants grow 3 feet tall.