Smokebush (Continus) is one of those flowering shrubs that gets people talking. "What's that?" they'll ask. Invariably, the question is posed in summer, when the puffy, smoke-like flower panicles appear. The flower structures are most noticeable in midsummer but hold on in some form for months. Fortunately, some smokebushes also have colorful foliage to carry the entire season—varieties with burgundy or chartreuse leaves are the most notable. Zones 4–8.
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Fothergilla: the flowering shrub with the funny name and the fantastic flowers. Those blooms appear in late spring and are a true delight due to their fragrance, bright white color and fuzzy bottlebrush shape. Fothergilla holds interest the rest of the season with blue-green leaves that turn a fiery mix of red, orange and yellow in fall. It also has attractive branching structure for winter interest. Zones 4–9.
Also called bluebeard, caryopteris offers that special something that gardeners cherish so much: uniqueness. In this case, it's the blue flowers that bring down the house from late summer to fall. They appear when other plants are flagging—and butterflies and other pollinators couldn't be happier for the unexpected sustenance. In cold climates, this flowering shrub may act like a perennial, dying back to the roots in winter but arising the following spring with new growth. There are also varieties of caryopteris with variegated or lime-colored flowers. Zones 5–11.
Rose of Sharon
Another late-summer superstar is rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), an upright flowering shrub covered in blooms until frost. Flowers range in color from white, pink and rose to lavender, purple and bicolors. Some, like Sugar Tip, have variegated foliage for added eye appeal. Rose of Sharon is often grown in groups to create a screen or hedge. Zones 5–8.
A traditional Southern favorite, crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) has crept northward due to warming temperatures and the introduction of compact varieties that can be grown in pots and overwintered in an attached garage. Easy to grow and possessing a tough disposition, crape myrtle's true draw are the big, bold and bright flowers. Colors include white, red, pink and purple. Zones 6–10 or 7–9, depending on cultivar.
Japanese spirea (Spiraea japonica) is a tough flowering shrub that never fails—one reason it's often called a "gas station plant." Indeed, you can leave it to its own devices (much like landscapers do at commercial plantings like gas stations) and be assured it will still deliver a dependable supply of pink flower clusters in summer. They're generally more compact than the spring-blooming spireas, and some cultivars have colorful foliage to boot. One example is 'Goldflame', which starts with bronze-red foliage in spring, matures to yellow-green, and takes on yellow, orange and copper hues as a fall finale. Japanese spirea is considered invasive in some areas, so check with your local cooperative extension on their recommendations before planting. Zones 4–8.
Knock Out Shrub Rose
One rose that can hold its own among woody plants is a shrub rose, and a prime example is the popular series of Knock Out roses. These ever-bearing roses peak in late spring but keep blooming until frost. They're compact, drought tolerant and resistant to black-spot disease. However, they are susceptible to rose rosette disease—spread by mites—which is why growers recommend cutting plants back by two-thirds when dormant in late winter to remove any mite eggs hiding in crevices. There are 10 colors, including pink, red, yellow and white. Zones 5–11.
Potentilla, or cinquefoil, is a small flowering shrub sometimes used as a groundcover for erosion control. It's also drought tolerant, which makes it suitable for both commercial and residential use. Potentilla blooms all summer long. The knock against it used to be that it was too common, but gardeners can mix it up with other shrubs and perennials for more interest. The species has golden yellow flowers, but cultivars are available with pink, white, peach or orange blooms. Zones 2–7.
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Panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata) has a tough constitution that makes it a favorite flowering shrub of landscapers. Needing less watering than the popular big leaf hydrangea (H. macrophylla), it offers huge panicles of white flowers in summer. The flower panicles retain their looks even as they age, so they're often used in dried floral arrangements. Many cultivars age from white to pink and eventually buff in the fall. 'Limelight' ages to lime green and then pink, while 'Fire Light' turns red. Zones 3–8.
St. John's Wort Flowers
St. John's wort (Hypericum) has been used for medicinal purposes since the Middle Ages. Often grown as a groundcover or low, spreading shrub, it is a tough, drought-tolerant plant needing little care. It features golden yellow star-shape flowers in summer followed by ornamental seedpods (see next slide).
St. John's Wort Seedpods
St. John's wort displays ornamental seedpods in fall. The beaked, oval seed capsules often persist through winter, providing multi-season interest. Zones 4–7.