Plan the perfect garden with our interactive tool →

The Uses of Shrubs

Shrubs not only provide beauty to a home's outdoor space, but they can also act as a windbreak, keep animals out of your garden and add a finished look to your home landscaping. The two main types of shrubs are deciduous, which shed their leaves in winter, and evergreen, which keep their foliage year-round. Some shrubs fall somewhere in-between.

Windbreaks and Privacy Screens

Mature shrubs provide windbreaks and privacy screens. According to the College of Agricultural Services at Penn State University, the typical planting of shrubs in a straight row is not always the most effective. If one or more shrubs in the row die off, then you are left with gaps. Cluster planting in groups of two to three, or planting multiple staggered rows, will minimize the impact of missing shrubs. This type of planting also produces a thicker windbreak or screen, as well as a more effective sound barrier. One shrub that works particularly well is the English yew (Taxus baccata ), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 7. This evergreen is often used for meticulously manicured hedges in English and other formal gardens.

Shrubs as Ornamentals

Ornamental shrubs are often the focal point of a garden. Flowering shrubs such as the roseshell azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum), USDA zones 3 to 8, produces bright pink flowers in the spring and has a spicy clove-like fragrance. In the fall, the bright green foliage turns an orange-bronze. Another option is the tea viburnum (Viburnum setigerum), USDA zones 5 to 7, ideal for a colorful garden hedge or on the outer edges of water gardens or ponds. The flowers are white, but the real show comes in the fall when clusters of red berries cover the plant. The leaves are blue-green, except in fall when they turn slightly purplish.

Add Background Color to a Floral Display

Shrubs can also offer background color to established floral displays. The common juniper, (Juniperus communis), USDA zones 3 to 7, is a slow-growing evergreen that can grow up to 24 inches in height and up to 10 feet wide. The dark blue-green foliage creates a dramatic contrast to boldly colored flower petals. In winter, the foliage keeps its color. The juniper is low-maintenance and is also used in rock gardens.

Keep Animals From Dining in Your Garden

Some shrubs deter animals from nibbling away at your vegetables and flowering plants. The American holly (Ilex opaca), USDA zones 5 through 9, deters deer. At the same time, the shrub attracts birds during the fall and winter with bright red berries. This evergreen can be used as a shrub to create hedges and as an ornamental. Rabbits are not fond of cotoneaster (Cotoneaster acutifolius), USDA zones 4 through 7. This deciduous shrub is also drought- and air-pollution-tolerant and is often used as accent foliage or for borders.

Ready Source of Fresh Herbs

Some shrubs not only provide visual beauty but also offer a ready source of fresh herbs just steps from your kitchen. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ), USDA hardiness zones 8 t0 10, is an example. The roundish evergreen shrub has gray-green needle-like leaves that are harvested as herbs for cooking or to infuse in condiments such as olive oil. Rosemary's scent also deters deer.

Improve Curb Appeal

Shrubs can improve your home's curb appeal. Line the entryway with potted shrubs, such as lollipop trees cut from junipers. These are a form of topiary, or plant sculpture. The lollipop is created by shaping a sphere on the top of the shrub and trimming the rest of the foliage off to create a long stem. It takes skill to do this. Luckily these lollipops are usually available at plant nurseries or garden shops. In-ground junipers also make suitable border plants for lawns or patterned garden areas in the front of a home. The English yew works well as a trimmed border for the pathway leading from the driveway to the front door, creating a more finished look.

Garden Guides