How do I Choose the Best Ornamental Shrub?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

A shrub is a woody plant that is both smaller than a tree and lacking the central trunk that is a tree feature. Its branches start from near the ground. An ornamental shrub is one that is planted for the sake of its appearance, rather than because it produces food or because it has other economic value, the way a Christmas tree or a timber tree does. Choosing the best ornamental shrub for your purposes will depend both on why you want the shrub and the conditions where it will be planted.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Some people have rather particular goals with regard to the function of their ornamental shrub. For example, they may be looking for a shrub that flowers or one that doesn’t flower. They might want a shrub they can shape as they wish, or one that will naturally assume a pleasant outline and not need much care in that regard.

The purchase of an ornamental shrub might be undertaken to replace a plant that has become damaged or died, in which case, a very specific type might be wanted. It might simply be an addition that will need to have colors that go well with existing plantings. Alternatively, it might be chosen because it is an evergreen, on the one hand, or because it provides a lovely display as its foliage changes colors in the fall, on the other hand.

Climate will be a major factor in choosing an appropriate ornamental shrub. While the hardiness or climate zones are different for different continents, some of these, such as the Plant Hardiness Zones for Australia at the Australian National Botanic Gardens website, are based on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) map prepared for the United States. A map such as the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map can be used to determine your zone, which is a help in determining which ornamental shrubs may thrive where you live.

Other factors particular to your property will be considerations in choosing the ornamental shrub best suited to your purposes. The amount of sun and shade is one consideration, and the make-up of the soil is another. Exposure to wind is a third.

Another element to take into account when choosing an ornamental shrub is the question of whether any part of the plants you may be considering — leaf, berry, flower, seed — is toxic. If so, it is important to carefully consider whether this could be dangerous to children, pets, or any other living being.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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