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We can plant shrubs in containers all year long. They are major features in the landscape, are important to wildlife, and can produce blooms or colorful foliage. To reduce the amount of pruning you must do to a shrub, it should be selected so that the ultimate height and width is appropriate for its position in the landscape. It is amazing how many shrubs are planted that end up covering windows or over-growing the sidewalk. Shrubs should also be planted in locations where they receive the amount of light they require.
Hollies are outstanding shrubs for landscapes in San Antonio. Most are evergreen and can grow in sun and light shade. All are good xeriscape plants. Dwarf yaupon holly is the most popular plant for a small foundation shrub. It forms a globe about three feet tall and wide. It is a disciplined grower so does not require pruning. Deer do not usually eat yaupon holly. My favorite small holly is dwarf Chinese holly. It is good for a foundation shrub or as a specimen plant in a shrub border. It makes a mound about 3 feet tall and 3.5 feet wide. The leaves are Kelly green and have points. The points are sharp enough to discourage deer from eating them and also protect the plant from being tread on in high traffic situations like planted islands at public buildings.
Dwarf Burford holly has a dark green leaf with one point at the tip. The plant makes a dense shrub about 5 feet tall and 3.5 feet wide. The standard Burford holly has a larger leaf than the dwarf and reaches eight (8) feet tall. Both Burford hollies are favorite nesting sites for shrub nesting birds like cardinals and both have decorative red berries that last until late winter when the birds eat them. Burford holly makes a good large foundation shrub and an outstanding hedge. Deer will eat new growth on Burford hollies.
Standard yaupon holly is the most versatile shrub of a versatile family. It can be trained as a single stem tree up to 25 feet tall or as a multi-stem shrub eight (8) feet or higher. It can even be pruned to a screen 18 inches wide. The berries are a favorite of the birds and yaupon holly is a desirable nesting site for many bird species.
The possomhaw holly is a deciduous version of the yaupon holly. It generally only reaches about seven feet tall, but is spectacular in the winter with its tiny but numerous red berries covering the base branches. Unfortunately, deer will eat the possomhaw holly. Yaupon and possomhaw holly have the sexes on separate plants. For the berries, you need a female plant. Almost all yaupons and possomhaws sold at retail nurseries are females.
Nandina share some of the desirable characterizes of hollies. They grow well in sun and shade, are evergreen and are good xeriscape plants. There are many sizes of nandina. The standard nandina is a slender upright shrub that reaches seven feet tall. It grows well in the shade, but is more decorative in full sun where it has clusters of red berries and red-purple foliage. During the winter, the birds do not like nandina berries as well as they do hollies, but they will eventually strip the plants in early spring. Many “deer proof lists” say deer do not eat nandina, but they are now being eaten without enthusiasm in many neighborhoods.
“Harbor Dwarf” nandina makes a groundcover 8 or 9 inches tall. The compact selections grow to two (2) feet tall and one, “purpurea,” has colorful leaves all year long. My favorite nandina is “Gulf Stream.” It reaches about three feet tall with a very horizontal branching configuration. The texture is outstanding.
There are some shrubs to avoid. Red tip photinia is attractive on some sites, but usually becomes infected by a fungal leaf spot in five to seven years and dies a slow, ugly death. Indian hawthorns catch a similar leaf spot when grown in the shade or locations where air movement is limited. Only use it as a specimen plant in full sun.
The full size pittosporum makes a good large shrub (8 feet tall and 15 feet around) that has fragrant blooms every spring, but avoid the dwarf version. It is very susceptible to freeze damage.
Other good shrubs to consider are viburnum, pomegranate, Texas mountain laurel, crepe myrtle, wax myrtle, xylosma, abelia, old-fashioned roses and eleagnus. For descriptions, visit www.plantanswers.com.