This posting is the second in our series about plant life suitable for our Calgary area gardens. According to Canadian hardiness zones, our city climate can readily support plant life rated for Zone 2 or 3. This time around, we are going to discuss the somewhat confusing category of plants called “shrubs” (or, to some, “bushes”).
Bring To Me A Shrubbery – From Monty Python
Many will remember the famous scene mentioned above in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, and it was funny because many are bewildered by what a “shrubbery” actually is. Some shrubs look like miniature trees, others look like bushes, and yet others are feathery and delicate. Here at Mirage Landscaping, we have over three generations’ worth of experience assisting our Calgary area commercial and residential clients with their shrubbery choices (no joke!). The best part about choosing a shrub, or many varieties of shrubs for your property, is that Alberta is the native home to many types of shrubs that will survive our winters in fine style year after year. If you so desire, there are also many imports, particularly evergreens, that thrive here too.
Some of the more famous shrubs that thrive here in Calgary are the aromatic family of lilacs. There are so many lilac varieties that you can grow here that it’s difficult to list them all. There is the Preston, the Charles Joly French, the dwarf Korean, and many more.
Other commonly seen shrubs are the barberries, the hydrangeas, the honeysuckles, the currants, spireas, elders, potentillas, prairie roses, and the rhododendrons. There are also many types of dwarf evergreens such as junipers, cedars, and pines.
So, what are the common characteristics of shrubs? The most consistent thing you can say about them is that they are generally height limited. In the wild, they would be called brush or ground cover, and in your yard or garden areas they serve to provide barriers, lower growing visual variety, and soil cover.
Try To Go Native
The surefire way to have shrubs that thrive in your Calgary area lawn or garden is to choose those that could live here without your care. There are many fine shrubs that grew on the Albertan prairies just fine long before any human arrived here. They are totally adapted to the cold winter snaps we can get as well as spells of heat accompanied by the drought of summer. If you are looking for shrubs that don’t depend upon you much for life support, go native.
If you are the type of person who prefers blossoms for as long as possible in the growing months, then consider shrubs such as the Prickly Rose, which blooms early with pink petals, or the Shrubby Cinquefoil, which blossoms with yellow flowers. Each will keep, or renew, their flowers up until the first killing frost.
For a reliable treat there are shrubs that yield human edible fruit, such as the Saskatoon berry. You get not only an ornamental shrub, you get a taste delight when its purple berries ripen. The Saskatoon berry is now commercially grown and its fruit is being touted for its antioxidant properties.
If your berry tastes run towards tartness rather than the neutral flavor of the Saskatoon, you could consider planting an American Highbush Cranberry instead. It is native to the area, but be forewarned that this shrub does require extra watering for more palatable fruit. In either case, because they grow to 2-4m tall, the Saskatoon or cranberry shrubs could be planted anywhere in full sun you might consider planting a tree. These are deciduous shrubs however, meaning that by winter they will lose their leaves, so if you want greenery year round, you’ll have to plant evergreen shrubs.
On a related note, if you’d rather attract wildlife than cultivate berries suitable for humans, there are shrubs such as the Bearberry, Nannyberry, Snowberry, and the Cherry Prinsepia that will help birds and squirrels find easy meals in the summertime.
Finally, if you want low maintenance shrubs, there are the evergreens. Of the commonly available ornamental shrub evergreens only the globe blue spruce and Rocky Mountain juniper could be considered remotely native to the area. That said, there are evergreen shrubs such as Mugo pine, nest spruce, and Savin juniper that are natives of Europe and are not considered invasive species.
Whatever shrubs may tickle your fancy, as you have seen, they vary more widely than trees or flowers do. Shrubs have many different soil type and planting depth considerations to consider. Some can tolerate standing water and others require good drainage. The smartest thing you can do before transforming your yard or garden with shrubs is to call an expert on selecting and siting them. Why not call us about your desire for shrubs suitable to both Calgary’s climate and your decorative tastes?