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Choosing Easy-care Shrubs

Shrubs tend to be the centerpiece of most people's front yard gardening. I think that's because shrubs are easy, but they're also expected. Homes without a row of shrubs lining the front look kind of naked and unloved.

Shrubs tend to be the centerpiece of most people's front yard gardening. I think that's because shrubs are easy, but they're also expected. Homes without a row of shrubs lining the front look kind of naked and unloved.

But it can be difficult choosing the right shrubs for your yard. There are so many possibilities and so many conditions in front yards that no one shrub is going to be perfect for every situation. I think what most people are looking for in their shrubs, though, is something that is easy to care for.

Shrubs are something you don't want to have to think about, you just want to plant them and have them survive with a minimum of watering and pruning. And if you're looking for easy-care shrubs, evergreen shrubs simply can't be beat.

Evergreen shrubs are the perfect combination of easy good looks and minimum care. They look good year round, which is perfect for something that's in your front yard where everyone can see it all the time.

When I moved into my current home, the front yard was filled with a bunch of evergreen boxwood shrubs. These little evergreens are super-easy to grow and will look good with almost no care. If you take the time to water them occasionally, they will reward you with more growth.

Though they're called "evergreens," boxwood shrubs grown in the sun will actually turn orange in the winter. I think they're prettier than the plain old green ones, and we actually kept our boxwood that were in the sun and got rid of the ones in the shade (they turn green again when it warms in the spring).

We replaced the boxwood shrubs we got rid of with evergreen azaleas. Azaleas are one of the stars of the shady garden, producing beautiful and bright flowers in the spring. The rest of the time they look nice, too, with small, waxy, dark green leaves. The azaleas are a little more work than the boxwood was; we water them through the summer and apply acid once or twice a year. Still, not much effort for solidly beautiful shrubs.

Another good choice for shade is hydrangeas, which have big puffballs of flowers in the late spring or early summer (some also bloom in fall). Hydrangeas are fun because the plants that bloom pink or blue can actually bloom different colors depending on the condition of the soil. A low pH (acid soil) makes blue blooms, while a very alkaline soil makes hydrangeas bloom pink. Even if you buy a plant that is supposed to bloom the other color, the pH of your soil may give the plant other ideas. (Like azaleas, not all hydrangeas are evergreen, so be sure to check the label.)

Holly shrubs are another good choice, and they make a nice hedgerow if you have an expanse of house that you want to cover up. They'll need pruning to stay looking nice and to keep their shape, but they are worth it because they make these beautiful, large, lush shrubs that have berries in the winter, which bring color to the yard and attract birds.

Leaving the world of evergreens, for an informal sunny garden, butterfly bush is a great choice. These shrubs have huge cones of colorful flowers that bloom in high summer and are very attractive to butterflies (and bees, so be careful planting these if someone in your household is allergic to beestings). Some varieties of butterfly bush are huge, growing up to six feet tall and five or six feet wide. If you don't have room for that kind of commitment, smaller hybrids are now available.

Those shopping for shrubs in the Deep South for sunny spots should also consider crape myrtle. These large bushes or small trees make great quick-growing hedges. New cultivars bloom twice a year or have extra-long blooming periods. This is another great shrub for attracting butterflies and other fun insects.

Easy-care shrubs make a great foundation for your flower garden, whether in the front yard or back yard. When these reliable performers are in place you can focus your attention on the fun stuff: planting and caring for your flowers and other plants.

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