Why we love shrubs
We’re often asked if we have a favourite plant, which is a bit like being asked if you have a favourite child. It’s hard to answer, as every plant has their own special characteristics. At the risk of upsetting whole groups of plants, we’re going to declare our admiration for shrubs.
For too long, shrubs have been bit players, sitting under the trees or amongst the grasses and tussocks. It’s now time to give these hard workers of the landscape game the recognition they deserve.
What’s so great about shrubs anyway?
Before we get to the practical and mundane stuff, lets focus on why we like shrubs.
First and foremost, they look good. Shrubs grow in a variety of forms, sizes and colours, offering great diversity in a landscape. From the greys of Leucophyta brownii to the pale greens of Correas and the deep greens of myoporums, you can get any number of foliage colours. You can also select many species such as Goodenia ovata that will add a strong spring flower and colour to your landscape.
Shrubs also range from ground covers through to small bushes, small trees and everything in between. There is an emerging range of cultivars from PBR ranges such as Ozbreed, who are producing shrubs with very specific form, colour and habit. You are only limited by your imagination of the combinations of colour and form you can think up.
Are shrubs easy to grow?
We like shrubs because they are easy to propagate from seed or cuttings, and can be ready to be planted out in 6 months or less. We have also had success direct seeding them by hand and hydromulching in landscapes from South Australia to New South Wales. Nothing covers large areas quicker than direct seeding.
In the landscape shrubs are long lived and at maturity will cover several square metres. This means that at planting, you can put significantly less in and still achieve a filled-out landscape in the first two years. For example, if we were to compare a common shrub and tussock, a Rhagodia parabolica will grow to 2m in height and 2m across, while a tussock such as Lomandra longifolia will grow to approximately 1.2m in diameter.
Shrubs will therefore require significantly less plants to establish the same area, and are often specified at densities of 0.7 to 2 per square metre compared with tussocks at densities from 4 to 8 per square metre. This difference in density is directly relatable to your budget, as both plants will cost the same to supply and install.
Allelopathy in Australian plants
Whilst there is limited evidence of allelopathy in Australian plants, shrubs restrict weed growth by intercepting light and rainfall with their foliage. This reduces maintenance loads significantly, as shrubs begin to join into a continuous plant canopy. Given that maintenance inputs are significant throughout the life of a landscape, choosing plants that restrict weeds will save you money. Less weeds equals less maintenance interventions.
The growth habits of shrubs lend themselves to reduced maintenance regimes as they don’t require biomass removal or burning to remain vigorous. They also don’t require formative pruning or drop limbs when mature. They are the ultimate set and forget plant in a large scale landscape, which gives designers and asset managers peace of mind.
Finally, we like shrubs because they are hardy. We have not found a site that we can’t get a shrub to grow on. With the variety we have available in our Nursery, you can find something to suit your wet / dry / flat / steep site and it will work.
We also like that they are suited to community planting, with multiple shrub species. Sites can be covered with a mix that allows them to sort themselves over time as the species better adapted to the site do better.
So there we have it; an ode to shrubs. A long overdue shout out to the plants that often live in the shadows of the trees.