Many of us are looking for ways to reduce the time spent maintaining of our landscapes. One of the easiest ways is to replace labor-intensive perennials -- those requiring additional fertilizer or continual deadheading and drought-sensitive or disease-prone varieties -- with small shrubs.
There are many pint-size shrubs that require pruning just once a year, if at all. Some are evergreen; some relinquish their leaves for the winter. Some have spectacular blooms; some offer colorful foliage. Here are some of the best for northern Illinois gardens.
The glossy leaves of euonymus Canadale Gold sport bright yellow edges surrounding green centers. Because it is evergreen, its distinctive coloring adds interest to the landscape year round. It grows in an irregular mound about 3 feet tall and wide. It never has to be pruned, but does not mind a haircut if its gardener prefers a more manicured appearance. This shrub is not fussy about growing conditions and performs in sun to part shade in dry to moist soils, as long as they are not soggy.
Euonymus Moonshadow boasts evergreen foliage with the opposite pattern of variegation of Canadale Gold and grows a bit shorter -- just 2 feet tall -- but up to 4 feet wide.
Position Canadale Gold or Moonshadow in the front of taller perennials that are ugly from the knees down, such as asters, daisies, goldenrods and mums.
One of my favorite shrubs, hydrangea paniculata Bobo, features an abundance of large white conical flowers held on strong, non-flopping stems beginning in midsummer. In fall, the flowers take on rosy tones. The shrub grows just 30 inches tall and 36 inches wide and is happy to perform in sun to part shade in well-drained soil enriched with compost. Deadhead last year's spent flowers in early spring.
Choose hydrangea paniculata Bobo to replace day lilies that need daily deadheading.
Juniperus squamata Blue Star is a lovely, ground-hugging evergreen shrub with silvery-blue needles. It reportedly grows up to 3 feet tall, but the specimen in my front garden can't be over a foot tall, although it has reached 4 feet wide as expected. Junipers require a spot with well-drained soil and full sun. It never needs pruning and is drought-tolerant once established.
A Blue Star juniper takes the space of five perennials in my garden where it is planted with Zagreb coreopsis and Max Frei geranium.
Ninebarks became all the rage several years ago with the introduction of varieties showing off new foliage colors. Physocarpus Tiny Wine is one of the newest members of the family. It features mildew-resistant, dark maroon foliage on bushy shrubs growing 3 to 4 feet tall. Pink flower buds open to charming white flowers in late spring. After dropping its leaves in fall, the exfoliating bark provides winter interest. Plant it in full sun to light shade in well-drained soil.
If you have peonies that come down with an annual bout of botrytis or old-fashioned phlox that are always covered with mildew, replace them with Tiny Wine ninebark. After it blooms in late spring, its dark, richly colored foliage is a beautiful backdrop for smaller pink, red or yellow flowering perennials.
Weigela My Monet captures your heart at first glance. It's a cutie -- just 18 inches tall and wide -- with green foliage painted with strokes of cream and pink at the edges. Soft pink flowers begin blooming in spring and continue sporadically through summer. It grows in full sun to part shade in compost-amended, well-drained soil. It rarely, if ever, needs pruning.
Plant My Monet in place of any small, time-consuming perennials at the front of the border like balloon flowers, blanket flowers and perennial dianthus.
• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist, garden writer and the garden center manager at The Planter's Palette in Winfield. She blogs at gardenwithdiana.com.