> Shrub Blog Series – Part Six – Specimen Plants

Amongst your ground covers, borders, etc., you will
undoubtedly want a solo planting that stands out. Specimen plants are your
centerpieces; they are showy, bold, striking, and colorful. There are a large
variety of trees which will serve the purpose of a focal point nicely, and
there are a number of extraordinary flowering plants which will do the same.
Narrowing down our top picks was quite difficult as there are so many great options.
Ultimately you should decide based on your landscape vision and the amount of
desired maintenance.

1. Shaina Japanese Maple – Enjoy autumn in three seasons with
the Shaina Japanese Maple! New leaves are red from conception, maturing to a
deeper maroon-red in the growing months. In the autumn, they turn vibrant red
once more. They boast dense branching patterns which are stunning in winter, slowly
reaching 8 to 10 feet in height and 6 to 8 feet in width. They do require
regular watering on a weekly basis; more often in summer heat. They should not
be planted in full sun and do well in slightly acidic but well-drained soil. If
pruning is required, it should be done so during the winter months when the
plant is dormant.

2. Kousa Dogwood – There are many varieties of dogwood that
will present as a beautiful focal piece. We would like to note one of our
favorites, Lustgarten Weeping Chinese Dogwood. It is a smaller variety only
reaching about 10 feet tall and 5 feet wide, but is characterized by its
upright “weeping” habit. The cascading branches boast clusters of snowy white
flowers lasting for several weeks starting in late spring. In the fall, it
features a multitude of striking crimson berries. Green foliage remains from
spring through summer, turning vibrant red in the fall. Peeling gray bark gives
interesting dimension in the winter months. The soil must be rich and acidic
but evenly moist. A bit more delicate than other plantings, a sheltered
location and mulching at the base will ensure growth success.
3. Magnolia “Jane” – There are over 100 species of magnolia
plants ranging from shrubs to trees. We love the “Jane” variety. The blossoms
are a reddish-purple with white interior and are uniquely cup-shaped in their
form. These flowers open later in the spring which ensures they avoid frost
damage. The dark green leathery leaves offer a sharp contrast to the blooms
making this a standout specimen planting. Autumn foliage is typically golden in
color. This species grows up to 10 to 15 feet high and 8 to 12 feet wide,
preferring full morning sun and partially shaded afternoons. Make sure the soil
stays rich and moist but well-drained.

4. Hydrangea – There are about 75 varieties of Hydrangea
ranging in color, size, floral shape, and leaf type. Many of them will work
well for a specimen planting. One of our favorite varieties is the “All Summer
Beauty” Hydrangea. It is a moderate growing shrub reaching about 3 to 5 feet
tall and wide and requires a fair amount of maintenance. (But it’s worth it!)
Wide green leaves provide a thick backdrop for ball-shaped clusters of blue or
pink flowers. Per their namesake, they are summer bloomers. The color of the
blossoms will depend on the pH of the soil. Neutral soil will produce pink
flowers where acidic soil will produce rich blue blooms. Regular watering is
required and a fertilizer ought to be applied in the spring. Prune after
flowering to ensure appearance and continued growth. Unlike many other species
of Hydrangea, the leaves will turn bright yellow before dropping in the fall. They
also have an interesting branching pattern which will collect snow in the

5. Rhododendron – We spoke about Rhododendron previously as a
potential foundation planting. With over 1,024 species and even more hybrids,
it’s a versatile plant for your landscape and would certainly be a wonderful
contender in almost all categories. As a specimen plant, we love the hybrid “P.J.M.
Elite Star.” It boasts magnificent lilac-pink blooms forming clusters on dark
green, glossy foliage. The flowers have a very delicate appearance with feathery
stamen protruding at the centers. The foliage turns red-purple in the fall and
winter, making it an excellent four-season addition to your landscape. It grows
in a rounded shape reached 4 to 5 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet wide. Water
regularly and fertilize after it blooms. Plant in a place where the afternoon
sun will not affect it too harshly.
6. Roses – How could we not talk about roses as a centerpiece?
There are over three hundred species and thousands of cultivars; definitely
talk to a nursery about your options however, as many roses are not suited to
our drastically varied climate. One of our recommendations is the Canadian
Explorer “John Cabot” Climbing Rose. The double blooms of up to 40 petals,
situated amidst medium green glossy foliage, range from red to fuschia in
color, flowering continuously throughout the spring and summer, and occasionally even in the
fall. They grow 8 to 12 feet tall by 5 to 6 feet wide with the higher numbers
dependent on a trellis or other structure to
climb. Otherwise this variety can also be grown as a shrub. Regular
maintenance is always required of roses, which includes watering, fertilizing,
and pruning.
7. Nanking Cherry – Who doesn’t love the ethereal appearance of
white cherry blossoms cascading on a spring breeze like fluffy snowflakes?
The Nanking cherry is an ornamental deciduous shrub. The interesting thing
about this shrub is that the flowers appear before the leaves. Nanking cherry
looks unique in your spring landscape with pinkish white blooms swaying on
red-brown exfoliating bark. It also produces red cherries which happen to be
edible! Spring and summer foliage is a dark green color with serrated leaves
that are soft to the touch. It grows up to 6 to 8 feet high and wide, and
prefers looser moist soils. Fall foliage is golden, and the intricate branches
accented by peeling bark look extraordinary in the winter time.
We have one more article in our shrub series which will
cover specialty plantings. We’ll see you next time for part seven!