Pacific Northwest Bushes – Growing Shrubs In Northwest States

Shrubs for Pacific Northwest gardens are an integral part of the landscape. Growing shrubs in the northwest states provide ease of maintenance, year-round interest, privacy, wildlife habitats, and structure. With the relatively temperate climate, the only difficulty may be deciding which northwestern shrubs to choose.

Choosing Shrubs for Pacific Northwest Gardens

Whether you are searching for shrubs in northwest states that provide food (like berries) for wildlife or you want to brighten up the winter landscape with a blooming perennial, there are plenty of options for suitable Pacific Northwest bushes. There are even suitable northwestern shrubs that are drought tolerant and plenty of native Pacific Northwest bushes that are acclimated to the region thus, making them low maintenance.

Flowering Shrubs in Northwest States

Camellias are a prominent feature in many Pacific Northwest gardens. They bloom reliably in the spring, but what about in the winter? Camellia sasanqua blooms in the middle of winter. ‘Setsugekka’ is a white blooming cultivar, while the popular ‘Yuletide’ blooms with a profusion of red flowers accented with yellow stamens that attract overwintering hummingbirds.

Another bloomer is Mahonia, a relative of Oregon grape. ‘Charity’ blooms with spikes of yellow blooms followed by a profusion of blue berries. This evergreen shrub for Pacific Northwest gardens lends an almost tropical feel to the landscape, but don’t let that fool you. Mahonia is tolerant of cold temperatures, including snowfall.

Sweetbox lives up to its name. While the small white blooms are rather inconspicuous, their tiny size contradicts their intense vanilla fragrance. Another bush that tolerates cold temperatures, Sweetbox actually blooms just before Christmas. Two species, Sarcococca ruscifolia and S. confusa are easily found. They grow to about five feet (2 m.) and thrive in dry shade areas.

Another evergreen, Grevillea comes in at about eight feet tall and across. This northwestern shrub blooms from September through April with red/orange blossoms that attract hummers and bees. Hummers will also be attracted to Ribes malvaceum, or Chaparral currant. The pink, aromatic drooping blooms draw in hummers but, amazingly, not deer.

Other cool weather bushes to consider for the region include:

  • Witch hazel
  • Winter jasmine
  • Viburnum ‘Dawn’
  • Wintersweet
  • Harry Lauder’s walking stick
  • Oregon grape

Northwestern Deciduous Shrubs

Deciduous shrubs lose their leaves in fall and grow fresh foliage in spring. Many bloom in spring, some produce fruit, and others provide bright colors in fall. Some Northwestern deciduous shrubs offer all that and more.

If you’re a gardener in the Pacific Northwest and you’re interested in growing deciduous shrubs, you have a huge selection from which to choose. Here are a few suggestions for deciduous shrubs in the Northwest.

  • Western serviceberry
  • Western burning bush
  • Shrubby cinquefoil
  • Western redbud
  • Silverberry
  • Pacific Ninebark
  • Silk Tassel

Native Shrubs in Northwest States

The aforementioned Oregon grape a native as are many other Pacific Northwest bushes. Salal is commonly found as an understory plant throughout wooded areas of the region and is harvested for use in floral bouquets. It prefers shade to part shade and will spread to become a low maintenance ground cover in areas that have difficulty supporting plant life. Plus, the edible but fairly unpalatable berries become something sublime when made into jelly.

Red Osier dogwood is a native blooming shrub that is found along stream beds. It thrives in either sun or shade, provided the soil is moist. It blooms with clusters of small white flowers that give way to an abundance of berries. As if all this isn’t enough, the stems of this dogwood glow a brilliant red during the typically dreary winter months.

One of the sturdiest of the native shrubs in northwestern states is oceanspray. While the cascades of white to cream blooms look delicate, the plant itself thrives in sun or shade and dry or wet conditions and is practically impossible to kill. It is a dense, rapid grower making it a perfect choice to fill in a hole in the landscape. Many birds flock to the bush for shelter and food.

Evergreen huckleberry provides year-round interest with its deep red new shoots set off against the glossy, dark green leaves and pink spring flowers that make way for red to dark purple berries in the summer. The berries are tiny but absolutely delicious. It can be grown in shade or sun. Interestingly, the more sun it gets the smaller the bush grows.

Osoberry, or Indian plum, is the first of the native Pacific Northwest bushes to leaf out and flower in the spring. While the small plums are bitter, the birds love them. Osoberry prefers dappled light and moderate moisture but will do well in most any other area of the landscape.

Rhododendrons can be found in almost every garden and should be considered for their gorgeous spring blooms.

Barberry, although prickly, has nice color and a myriad of shapes and sizes.

The list really does go on for shrubs in this area, making the only problem narrowing down which ones to include in your landscape.

January Tips: The Pacific Northwest

Start off your garden year right by laying the foundation for a great garden.

Leaf Disposal and Tool Care -- Clean up and fix up before plants really get growing. Rake leaves, pull obvious weeds, spruce up and sharpen hand tools and power tools.

  • Take the lawn mower in for a tune-up and blade-sharpening, or do it yourself, being sure to change the oil and clean or change the filter. A great tip is to keep an extra mower blade. Blades need to be sharpened three or four times during the growing season, so you can always have one on hand while the other is at the shop -- or on your workbench.

Planting Bare-Root Trees, Shrubs and Roses -- Once the ground is well-thawed, you can plant bare-root trees and shrubs as well as bare-root roses.

Planting Trees and Shrubs -- Plant container-grown trees, shrubs, perennial herbs, ground covers, and perennial flowers as long as you're within at least one month of your region's last frost date. You can get a general idea by clicking on our map, but to find out precisely, give any local garden center a quick call.

  • If you haven't already, fill in bare spots with cool-season annuals (those annuals that thrive when temperatures are seldom lower than 35 and seldom higher than 80 or 85 F), such as pansies and snapdragons.

Pruning Roses -- Prune deciduous fruit trees and also prune roses. Spray both them with horticultural oil to prevent insect problems later.

Pruning Trees and Shrubs -- Prune trees and prune shrubs. Be careful with flowering trees and shrubs -- you don't want to trim off developing buds. But do trim late-summer or fall-blooming trees and shrubs, including abelia, mimosa, cassia, oleander, crape myrtle, princess flower (also called tibouchina), golden rain tree and hibiscus. As a rule of thumb, otherwise, prune flowering shrubs and trees within a month after they stop blooming.

Houseplant Basics -- Houseplant growth this month is slow, so don't fertilize and keep watering to a minimum. For more information, check out our houseplant basics.

Start Seeds Indoors -- Start seeds indoors if you like for warm-season annuals, such as tomatoes, marigolds, peppers, cosmos, zucchini, impatiens, salvia, basil, and others. Otherwise, wait until all chance of freezing temperatures has passed and buy established seedlings at the garden center.

Fertilize Lawns -- Try our handy on-line lawn fertilizer calculator so you know exactly how much to buy and apply.

  • Cut branches from forsythia, redbud, quince, flowering cherry, pussy willows, and other spring-blooming shrubs and trees to force indoors. Simply cut branches of flowering woody plants once you can spot the tiny developing buds. Submerge the branches in cold water (like the tub) for a couple hours or up to a full day. Then stick just the ends in a bucket of cold water about a foot deep for a week in a cool (no warmer than 60 degrees F) spot. Arrange in a vase, put in a warm room, and watch the buds open over the next few days.

Garden Projects -- Now is an excellent time to start some of those garden hammer-and-nail projects you've been wanting to do -- window boxes, planters, arbors, and more. Check out for a list of dozens of garden projects.

Garden Journals -- If you haven't already, start a garden journal or file. Tuck into it names of plants you like, magazine pictures, plant labels and seeds, and anything else that suits your fancy. If you're feeling crafty, make your own journal.

Next Step: Planting Your Native Plants

Once you start planting natives in your garden, it will be hard to limit yourself to only 5 shrubs! Luckily, there are many more to choose from. If you're not looking for shrubs, here are five other native plants we love. For a more comprehensive list of Washington natives, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center offers a great native plant finder.

If you’re still not convinced why you should plant native plants in your garden, let me try to change your mind.

Finally, when you’re ready to start shopping, we've got advice on getting the most bang for your buck when buying plants. Happy planting!

Planting a shrub border

We pulled out old arborvitaes & moved perennials to make room for a shrub border. The site will be approx 15 ft deep & 36-38 ft long. Either end of this strip has lilacs plus 1 hibiscus, Rose of Sharon.
We have purchased 1 ea.: Choisya Ternata Mock Orange 6-8 ft tall & wide. Paniculata hydrangea Vanilla Strawberry 6-7 ft tall 4-5 ft w. I am asking for suggestions for additional plants for this area. East side so lots of sun. So a few more biggies and then some smaller plants for the 2nd row? Do I plant these so @ maturity their 'fingers' just touch or closer?
I love free advice. Thank you. Mary

Well, I'm always going on about ninebarks, and it seems as if you have room for them. The dark-leaved varieties look fantastic with sunlight streaming through their leaves.

Added to my 'research' list. Thank you.

ohhhh ohhhhh! I like the Coppertina (Nine Bark)

What about a viburnum 'Dawn' Has a pink blossom very early, like around Feb.
Aslo a viburnum 'spice' or might be 'oriental spice'. It smells wonderful. What about a witch hazel? They bloom early too and smell. Make sure you plant things of interst for all seasons.

Coppertina is possibly the most beautiful of the bunch, and a bit smaller.
Definitely plant for fragrance.
And as spring says, for all seasons. I don't think you had any evergreens on your list? Even something like pieris, if you don't want traditional ones.
Beauty berry (callicarpa) is another great choice -- the winter berries are a heavenly lavender if the birds don't get 'em.

Yes, I need another evergreen or 2. My mock orange is evergreen.

Viburnum 'Spring Bouquet' is evergreen. It blooms extremely early, like January-February. I really like the Fothergillas I added to my yard this year, and I am looking forward to their fall colors (I put in both 'Mt. Airy' and 'Jane Platt'). I like intermixing columnar formed evergreens with rounded blooming deciduous shrubs. I like my Italian cypress, skyrocket junipers, pencil barberries, etc.

I really like a lot of the dwarf crytomerias. They are hard to find anything bigger than a 1 gallon and are slow growing, but they are beautiful to look at. I have 3 varieties, Knaptonensis, pygmaea, and koshyi.

I also reall like the dwarf Chamaecyparis gold fern. Not at all deer resistant though. Also slow growing.

What kind of characteristics are you looking for in your evergreen? Needles or leaves? Ultimate size? Blooms? Ect.

The Choisya Ternata (mock orange)is round w/ shiny leaf & I think I will incorporate a Sky Pencil Holly for texture/height variety. I am open to suggestions.

I have had Spiraea Prunifolia (bridal wreath) on my I WANT list for a long time. I really like the airy-ness & old fashioned-ness of it. & a flowering quince is on that same list.

This message was edited Aug 26, 2011 11:35 AM

Peacock spiraea has really neat foliage. Greenish blue with red shimmer on the new growth and a feathery serrated edge.

There are a few variegated weigelas, they've got pretty leaves. Graceful weeping branches if let go naturally or can be shaped pretty easy. An abundance of flowers in late spring.

Callicarpas give good fall interest with their purple berries. The profusion cultivar has a bronze cast to their leaf. Can get pretty big though.

Lilacs, they smell magnificent and the are so many to choose from with sizes and colors.

If you do want something large, a golden chain tree/gigantic shrub. Laburnum anagyroides

My neighbors weigelas hangs over our property on the other side of our yard. It is gorgeous!

Definitely pay attention to their mature size -- I have been working on a shrub border on and off for years, and have found many were planted too closely (a common problem I have). I have not particularly planned for this - just pick up inexpensive shrubs whenever I go to a nursery and pop it in. Lose many to my husband's weedwacking, and more to insufficient water the first year (this border is not handy to any hose so they are pretty much on their own). Here it is in the fall, my favorite time. Now that we have no animals, I plan to add to it inside the field as well, kind of randomly, to break up the straight line look of it. This borders our driveway and is usually very weedy and unkempt (much like the photo). This spring I underplanted most of the shrubs with vinca, hoping that will fill in and perhaps crowd out some of the weeds. I also go back and forth with letting each shrub be as tall as they want to, or pruning them to a similar height.

When planting the shrubs what is the rule? For example, the mock orange, choisya ternata, grows to 8 ft + wide.Do I plant the next shrub 4 ft from the center of the choisya ternata? And 4 ft from the cyclone fence that borders our back yard?

I planted most of my shrubs about 4-5' apart and that was too close. Some will intermingle with one another nicely, but others are smothered by their more robust neighbors. If I did mine over again, I would split the difference less about a foot (to allow some overlap). I think 6-7' would work for most shrubs (unless you are planting some that are columnar, then you would adjust accordingly). Four feet from your fence should work. I encourage you to underplant with some sort of groundcover at the early stage so it can get established as the shrubs mature. Whatever works for your area/exposure. I have applied thick mulch to my border every spring, but my field grass is relentless and pops through everything. Thought about a weed barrier, but I've never had the ground down to bare dirt so don't think that would work without a whole lot of manpower.

Planting 4-5 ft apart seems too general. I am thinking if I plant a shrub that matures to 8ft + wide next to a plant that matures to 6-7 ft wide I should plant the 2nd shrub closer to 7 ft. from the 1st shrub.

Yes, but Anastatia, that's only if you want them all smack up against each other. Just because they grow to X feet wide doesn't mean they don't need a little more space & light than that. Give them a little room to shine or you just have a crowded muddle -- and a lot of deadwood.

thank you summerkid, but are you suggesting I plant further apart then 7 ft? (using the example I gave)

Yes. For instance, back to my love affair with ninebarks. They tend to cascade, like your bridal wreath. (And get bigger than the tags say.) So they look best if there is a little room between them & their neighbors. If interspersed with columnar plants, that's less of an issue.

Of course, this is all rank opinion & shrubs can always be pruned to keep them the size you want.

thank you, this is so helpful. do you have pix of your ninebark(s)?

I don't have any mature ones here & poor pix of the ones back in Illinois. But I think I got a couple of shots of kosk's yesterday . going to look for camera

Summerkid, being the artist she is, likely has the eye for the finished product that may be several years down the road. If only I were that disciplined. I always plant too close together and then weed things out, letting those that obviously love the spot take it over and discarding or transplanting the others. Or, I let the rodents decide. Lately that has worked best.
In terms of rules, I generally pay little attention to them, preferring to do what I think looks good. I used to go with the 'tall in the back, then medium, then small in the front' rule, but then I got bored with that. Plus I stared seeing the benefits of a more multi-dimensional look with a few taller 'see through ' plants placed closer to the front. I like it. But my gardens do not look very orderly.

I am determined not to plant too close. I am looking @ my back yard for E-Z maintenance, esp. down the road when I am 73+ (now 63). Thanks Pd for the advice. I do not have an eye or imagination for the finished project & must rely on photo's and talent from those who do have the eye/imagination. I really like the looks of the ninebark Coppertina but looking for a photo of one in a garden I have seen close-ups only.

If you plant farther apart, you can always fill in later. Are you going for a hedgerow look? If so, then planting the closer spacing is recommended.

No no, definitely a more casual border. I think I will add a flowering quince to my collection. Also considering a Coppertina ninebark. We rented a sod cutter the other day and extended the garden area about 4 ft on the site where I will be planting this assorted shrub border. Actually, we took the sod cutter around the entire perimeter so we have 18+ inches min. of extended garden space to keep from getting banged by the shrubbery when we mow the lawn. I will soon be searching for a discussion on edging.

How easy was that sod cutter to use? Could I use it to go around my edges that keep encroaching on the flower beds?

We rented the larger 18 in. blade. The guy @ the rental place said that size is easier to use, balance wise. The other size is 12 in. blade. There is no control re: the width of the cut. My husband was the primary operator. I did it for a small part of the yard. I recommend it. Highly efficient. It cut down maybe 1 1/2 - 2 in.? It can be adjusted a bit.The machine is about 300 lbs. $60 for 4 hrs. and we returned it before 3 hrs. and they adjusted it to $50. I love machines working for me! I have heard or read there is a machine that will cut a v-shaped edge for a border between sod & garden but not sure there really is such a dream machine. Next on the list to rent, if there is such a thing.

Anastatia - let us know if you do find such a machine. That has been my most successful edging, a simple trench. Fairly labor intensive, although I usually don't mind as I tackle it early in the spring when I'm fresh and vigorous. This past spring I actually never got around to it (I was focused on a separate project) and the previous year's edge held fairly well.

I will let you know. I watched a video re: digging a victorian style edge and the guy said there was a machine if you had enough garden to justify the expense. Here is the last part of an article re: same subj.
"You have made a V shaped trench. Remove any loose earth that might be in the trench and continue around the garden. You can rent a machine that will do the same thing and require much less energy from you and it will take much less time as well."
From this I assume the author is not referring to the standard electric lawn edging tool many of us own. Stay tuned.


Those look some some serious machines. I may stick with my trenching shovel - looks like I'd likely wreck my wrists with one of those guys. Sometimes slow and steady is the answer. But. let me know if you do try one out.

Slow n' steady is great but I am part jack-rabbit. Fast start and quick burn out so I need the immediate result a machine produces.


Bulbs: As new shoots appear, scratch bulb fertilizer into soil around plants. This feeding ensures a strong show next year.

Landscape plants: Use a complete, all-purpose product for trees and shrubs. Apply before growth begins.

Rhododendrons, azaleas, and camellias: Choose a fertilizer designed for acid-loving plants.

Berries: Feed plants with an all-purpose fertilizer. You can also heap compost around canes. Do not feed strawberry plants until after harvest in June.

Test Garden Tip: Top-dress a rock garden using a mixture of sand, loam, and coconut fiber to reduce soil compaction and erosion, help soil retain moisture, and cool soil. This fast-draining topdressing also protects plant crowns from excess moisture. Don't worry how the garden looks after top-dressing. Rains will wash materials into soil.

Address Lawn Challenges

Bare spots: Repair bare spots in the lawn. Simply scratch up soil and toss on seed. Keep the seedbed moist until sprouts appear. If birds, rodents, or deer create heavy traffic in your yard, use clean straw or a light dressing of compost to protect seed from hungry critters.

Grass seed choices: If you're starting a new lawn, use fescue for shady areas and a mix of bentgrass and perennial ryegrass for sunny sections. Buffalograss thrives east of the Cascades. This drought-tolerant turf is a low-maintenance favorite in other regions where it's widely grown.

Weeds: Preemergent weed killers will take care of annual grassy weeds, such as crabgrass and annual bluegrass. The trick is applying it before seeds germinate. Usually, if you apply when forsythia begins to bloom, you'll hit the right window. Follow application instructions on the bag with regard to rainfall.

Moss: For lawns that typically don't have a moss issue, choose a spring fertilizer that contains iron. The iron will eliminate any moss that invaded the lawn over winter.

Test Garden Tip: Fertilize lawns when grass starts to green up. Choose a complete fertilizer labeled for spring use.

Watch the video: Salal- Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest

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