Can I Plant Shrubs Now? How to tell if it’s time and what to do next.
Shrubs are often the overlooked sidekick of the landscape. Smaller than trees, lower profile than many showy perennials and annuals, shrubs aren’t stealing the spotlight. But they provide structure, all-season interest and a reliable and beautiful presence in your landscape with very little maintenance.
Shrubs, like trees are either deciduous (i.e. they go dormant and lose their leaves in winter) or evergreen (i.e. they don’t go dormant and do keep their foliage all winter). And there are varieties for every reason and personal preference.
So when is the right time to plant yours? Here’s what you need to know:
One of the most popular times to plant shrubs—or any plant really—is spring, when we’d do just about anything to put winter behind us and get a little green in our lives.
But most shrubs can be planted any time the soil is workable. That includes during the heat of summer, you’ll just want to be more diligent about watering. Check out our General Planting Guidelines for an easy, month-by-month cheat sheet on when to plant shrubs and other landscape plants.
How to Choose
Start with a plan. Know where you want to plant your shrubs, if the ground is regularly wet in that area (some shrubs don’t like ‘wet feet,’ including rhododendrons and azaleas), how much space your shrubs will have to spread out and what their ultimate purpose is in your landscape (i.e. privacy, to fill in as a background border, etc.).
If you’re not sure how to answer these questions, you may want to start with a Snapshot Gardening Consultation, a one-on-one meeting at the garden center with a professional landscape designer. During your meeting, you’ll share photos of a small area or two, talk about your goals and your designer will recommend shrubs or other plants to fit your needs. You’ll walk the garden center together and have a gift card to get you started.
You’ll always want to check the tag on your plant or talk to someone in the garden center to make sure you’re planting for the correct exposure (e.g. full sun or shade) and allowing enough space for the plant at its mature size. For example, we put together this list of the Top 10 Trees and Shrubs for Small Spaces, filled with choices that stay relatively small, even when fully grown.
There are choices for shady spots (we like Japanese Kerria), sunny spots (check out the Limelight Hydrangea), great flowering shrubs (viburnum ‘Juddii’ is nothing short of heaven) and attractive and hardy evergreens (we’re partial to the Blue Star Juniper). For more choices, check the ever-growing Shrubs section of our online catalog or stop into the garden center for living color examples.
As mentioned, you can plant container or balled and burlapped shrubs any time the soil is workable, but usually the earlier in fall the better to give your shrubs a chance to form a strong root system before the winter sets in.
Try to purchase them right before you’re going to plan them to reduce the chance of the roots drying or overheating, especially in summer.
Once you’ve chosen your shrubs and other plants, check out A Guide to Planting & Care, a reference that will take you through planting, watering, fertilizing and any required pruning.