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Blooming Shrubs for Georgia Gardens

Updated: Mar 1, 2019

Often mistaken for a Dogwood tree, the wonderful 'Shasta' Viburnum layers its blossoms like a tiered wedding cake.
Viburnum plicatum 'Shasta'- Doublefile Viburnum

Here in Georgia, we have such a wonderful diversity of blooming shrubs to choose from! Whether it's full sun or a shady spot under mature trees, there's a shrub suitable for your landscape.

In this blog, we'll talk about a few of my favorites with their attributes, including deer-resistance, because that's such a big issue for so many folks. It's better to plant things they don't favor than to plant their favorite candy bar and fight with them over it. Usually, the human loses!

1. Viburnum Species

If I could only take ONE shrub with me to live on a deserted island, it would be a Viburnum. But which one? There are so many that work so well here in the south that my dilemma would be deciding between Shasta Viburnum, pictured above, Korean Spice Viburnum (oh the fragrance!) or maybe the Chinese Snowball Viburnum that blooms in spring and fall. And I would have to consider Brandywine Viburnum for its colorful berries and tough nature.

We don't use Viburnums enough here in the south and that's a shame. They offer so much and have a look all their own. They can be a focal point, a blooming hedge or a group of three next to the patio.

  • A very diverse genus of plants with many options

  • 4-5 hours of sun is typically enough for a Viburnum to bloom. In fact, they tend to prefer a little afternoon shade here in the south

  • Viburnum is rated as "occasionally damaged" by deer. This means it's not their favorite but hungry deer with few options will damage it

Korean Spice Viburnum Brandywine Viburnum Chinese Snowball Viburnum

2. Calycanthus floridus or Sweet Shrub (also called Carolina Allspice)

This native shrub has fragrant blooms which have been described as combining hints of pineapple, strawberry and banana. This plant stops people in their tracks when they smell the fruity aroma of the blossoms. Maroon-red blossoms appear in April/May here in north Georgia. U.S. native from Virginia to Florida. Wonderful near the patio or sidewalk where you can best enjoy the sweet aroma.

  • Exceptionally easy to grow in your garden. They’re happy in part to full shade, but here in zone 7, give your shrub a spot that gets some shade during the hottest part of the day 

  • The dark green leaves and bark of this deciduous shrub have an odor of cloves or camphor, giving them good deer-resistance

  • Low maintenance, carefree and pest/insect resistant

  • Because Sweet Shrub is native to our area, it can handle whatever Mother Nature throws at it

3. Camellia japonica & Camellia sasanqua

No southern landscape is complete without a Camellia! You can plant several different varieties to literally have blooms from October to April. The base colors of the Camellia bloom are red, pink and white but there are many variations and shades.

The two species, japonica & sasanqua, have their differences. The Sasanqua Camellias bloom in fall and early winter. They are smaller than japonicas in every way. Smaller leaves, smaller size and smaller blossoms. For this reason, they are much more appropriate to plant near the foundation of the house than a japonica. Sasanqua Camellias typically get 6-8 ft tall.

Camellia japonica is the perfect evergreen for that semi-shady spot where you want something large. They eventually mature to 12-15 ft tall depending on the variety. Keep them at least 10 ft away from the house!

  • A beautiful focal point or evergreen hedge in shade

  • Plant in afternoon shade or dappled light

  • Available in white and every shade of pink and red imaginable

  • Classified as rarely browsed by deer

4. Hydrangea Species

Hydrangeas are a staple of the south much the way Camellias are. There are many species and it gets confusing as to which ones need sun vs shade, blooms on new wood vs old wood, etc so we will break down the different species common to Georgia.

*Hydrangea macrophylla, macro meaning big leaf. This is the traditional blue (or pink if lime is added to raise pH) variety that blooms on old wood and needs some shade in the south. Never prune in winter! The dormant flower buds are on those dead looking sticks, just waiting for spring. You can however prune off the old dead flower clusters at the top.

Hydrangea macrophylla or Bigleaf Hydrangea

*Hydrangea paniculata or Panicle Hydrangea, also called PG Hydrangea. You probably know this one as 'Limelight' Hydrangea as it is a paniculata cultivar with big white blooms that stormed the scene several years ago. Panicle Hydrangeas love and need sun, too much shade will drastically decrease blooms. It blooms on new wood, you definitely want to prune it hard in winter as the new growth is where the flower panicles form. A few newer paniculata cultivars that have become popular are Vanilla Strawberry & Quick Fire. The white blooms change to pink and dark pink respectively as they age.

Vanilla Strawberry Limelight Quick Fire

* Hydrangea arborescens or Smooth Hydrangea- native to the eastern United States and is the only Hydrangea that we are aware of that the deer hate! They typically love Hydrangeas but not this one. The most well-known variety is 'Annabelle' that produces immense clusters up to a foot across of pure white flowers in summer. Grows to about 4 feet tall and wide. It blooms on the current season's new growth so prune it in late winter.

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'

* Hydrangea quercifolia or Oakleaf Hydrangea

Another species of Hydrangea native to the Southeastern United States in woodland habitats from North Carolina west to Tennessee, and south to Florida and Louisiana. Large graceful panicles of white blossoms in late spring and early summer. A tremendous advantage of the Oakleaf is that it can thrive in much dryer locations than its cousins. The fall color of the large lobed leaves is fantastic, turning shades of orange and maroon. Blooms on old wood, don't prune in winter. Unfortunately, deer will heavily browse this shrub.

5. Fothergilla hybrid 'Mt Airy'

This shrub deserves a place in every garden. One of my absolute favorites for multi-season interest. ‘Mount Airy’ is a hybrid cultivar that was discovered by plantsman and UGA professor Michael A. Dirr at the Mt. Airy Arboretum in Cincinnati, Ohio. Its profuse spring flowering, excellent summer foliage, excellent fall color and consistently upright habit make it a gem in the landscape. Bottlebrush-like spikes of fragrant white flowers bloom in spring (April-May). Flowers have a honey-scented fragrance. Leathery leaves are dark green above and bluish gray beneath (because it is a member of the witch hazel family). Foliage turns excellent shades of yellow, orange and red-purple in fall. Few shrubs give you the kaleidoscope of colors that Mt Airy does. Grows to 4-5 ft tall, handles wet and dry soil in sun to partial shade.

Care of New Shrubs

Once you have planted your shrubs, water deeply and then let the water soak in to encourage new roots to grow deeper into the soil. Sprinkler systems DO NOT provide adequate water to the entire root ball of new shrubs. It is critical that you soak the entire rootball of the plant for the first few months so that sensitive roots do not die. How often you need to water new shrubs depends on the time of year, the type of soil, temperature, rainfall, etc. A general rule of thumb is to soak the rootball of newly planted shrubs every 3-4 days (including rainfall). Some shrubs such as mophead hydrangeas need more water than a shrub such as juniper. The more you garden, the more you will instinctually know what each type of plant needs from you to be happy.

Continue regular watering for the first few months. Plants in full sun will obviously require more frequent watering than those in shade. Check on sensitive trees and shrubs frequently. Drought-sensitive trees and plants that are likely to show the effects of reduced moisture include magnolias, Japanese maples, dogwoods, viburnums, azaleas and hydrangeas. They will suffer during dry weather because they're shallow-rooted and therefore drought-sensitive.

Spread mulch. A layer of organic mulch, such as shredded bark or leaves to insulates soil against extremes of temperature fluctuations and holds in soil moisture. Apply no more than three to four inches deep of mulch in a circle around trees and plants and in an even layer over garden beds. Do not let it touch the trunk or stems of the tree or plants.

Helpful Links:

NC State Publication- Deer-Resistant Plants. A very handy chart that lists plants by rarely damaged, occasionally damaged and frequently damaged.

Shade Gardens Can Be Beautiful- Georgia Gardening Magazine

Pruning Landscaping Shrubs- Georgia Gardening Magazine

Happy gardening!

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