Medium-Size, Deciduous Shrubs

Medium-size, deciduous shrubs (those that grow 4 to 8 feet tall) are important components of the home landscape. Some can be used in hedges, screens, or naturalized areas. Others are excellent accent plants in the landscape. Several medium-size, deciduous shrubs that are suitable for Iowa are listed below.

Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)

Size: 6 to 8 feet tall.
Hardiness Zone: 4
Leaf Characteristics: Leaves are dark green in summer. Fall color is red to purplish red.
Flowers: Clusters of small white flowers are produced in spring.
Fruit: Berry-like fruit turn red in fall and persist into winter.
Remarks: Plants grow in most soils. Best fruiting occurs in full sun.
Suggested Cultivars: 'Brilliantissima' produces a heavy fruit crop and has scarlet red fall foliage.

Korean Barberry (Berberis koreana)

Size: 4 to 6 feet tall.
Hardiness Zone: 3
Leaf Characteristics: Medium green leaves turn reddish purple in fall.
Flowers: Plants produce 3 to 4 inch-long clusters of yellow flowers in spring.
Fruit: Egg-shaped berries turn bright red in fall and persist into winter.
Remarks: The Korean barberry is a spiny, suckering shrub that performs best in moist, well-drained soils in full sun. Plants will tolerate light shade. Wet, poorly drained sites should be avoided.
Suggested Cultivars: Emerald Carousel ('Tara') is a hybrid derived from a cross between Berberis koreana and B. thunbergii. This cultivar grows 4 to 5 feet tall and produces yellow flowers in spring. Foliage is green in summer, turns red in fall.

Common Sweetshrub or Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus)

Size: 6 feet tall.
Hardiness Zone: 5
Leaf Characteristics: Leaves are dark green in summer. Fall color is variable, occasionally an
attractive yellow.
Flowers: Fragrant, reddish brown to maroon flowers are produced in late spring.
Remarks: Common sweetshrub prefers a moist, well-drained soil in partial shade to full sun.
Flower fragrance is variable. Most have a pleasant, fruity fragrance.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Size: Commonly grows 4 to 6 feet tall. Occasionally reaches a height of 10 to 12 feet.
Hardiness Zone: 4
Leaf Characteristics: Plants have glossy, dark green foliage in summer. Little or no fall color.
Flowers: Creamy white flowers are produced in roundish heads in summer.
Remarks: Buttonbush is best suited to wet areas along streams and lakes.

Summersweet Clethra (Clethra alnifolia)

Size: 4 to 8 feet tall with an equal or slightly greater width.
Hardiness Zone: 4
Leaf Characteristics: Leaves are lustrous green in summer, changing to pale yellow or golden brown in fall.
Flowers: Fragrant, white flowers are borne on 2 to 6 inch-long, bottlebrush-like racemes in mid to late summer.
Remarks: Plants tolerate partial shade and wet soils.
Suggested Cultivars: 'Hummingbird' (compact), 'Ruby Spice' (pink flowers).

Large Fothergilla (Fothergilla major)

Size: 6 to 8 feet tall.
Hardiness Zone: 5
Leaf Characteristics: Foliage varies from dark green to blue-green in summer. Fall color ranges
from yellow to orange to red.
Flowers: Small, white, honey-scented flowers are borne on 1 to 2 inch-long, upright spikes in spring.
Remarks: Fothergillas perform best in well-drained, acid soils in partial shade to full sun. Suggested
Varieties: 'Mount Airy' blooms heavily in spring and also has excellent fall color.

Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica)

Size: 4 to 5 feet tall.
Hardiness Zone: 5
Leaf Characteristics: Foliage is medium to dark green in summer. Fall color varies from yellow to
orange to reddish purple.
Flowers: Plants produce fragrant, white flowers in 2 to 6 inch-long, upright spikes in early summer.
Remarks: Virginia sweetspire performs best in moist to wet soils. Can be grown in partial shade to full sun.
Suggested Cultivars: 'Henry's Garnet' has reddish purple fall color and grows 3 to 5 feet tall.
Little Henry grows 2 to 3 feet tall and has reddish purple foliage in fall.

Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)

Size: 6 to 8 feet tall.
Hardiness Zone: 4
Leaf Characteristics: Leaves are leathery, dark green, semi-evergreen, and aromatic.
Flowers: Small, inconspicuous flowers are produced in spring.
Fruit: Small, round, gray fruit are present on female plants from fall through winter.
Remarks: The wax from the fruit is used to make bayberry candles. Grows well in poor (sandy and clay) soils.

Eastern Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)

Size: 6 to 8 feet tall with similar spread.
Hardiness Zone: 2
Leaf Characteristics: Leaves are medium green in summer. There is little or no fall color.
Flowers: Small, white (sometimes pinkish white) flowers are borne in 1 to 2 inch-wide flower clusters in late spring.
Fruit: Small, reddish capsules are present in fall.
Remarks: While not highly ornamental, the bark on older stems exfoliates into long, papery strips exposing brown inner bark. Eastern ninebark is a tough, adaptable shrub.
Suggested Cultivars: 'Dart's Gold' (compact, yellow to yellow-green foliage), Diabolo (reddish purple foliage that turns to bronze by summer).

Flowering Almond (Prunus glandulosa)

Size: 4 to 5 feet tall.
Hardiness Zone: 4
Leaf Characteristics: Foliage is light green in summer. There is little or no fall color.
Flowers: White or pink, single or double, 1 inch-diameter flowers are produced in April or May.
Remarks: While attractive when in bloom, flowering almond provides little interest the remainder of the year. Rather straggly in appearance and tends to be short-lived.
Suggested Cultivars: 'Rosea Plena' has double, pink flowers.

Northern Lights Azalea (Rhododendron 'Northern Lights')

Size: mature height and spread are 6 to 8 feet.
Hardiness Zone: 4
Leaf Characteristics: Foliage is deciduous. Leaves are medium green in summer, yellow to reddish purple in fall.
Flowers: 'Northern Lights' was the initial introduction. Its flowers are light to deep pink. Color range has been broadened with the addition of several cultivars in series. Possess pleasing fragrance.
Remarks: Northern Lights azaleas have flower bud hardiness of -30 to -45 F. They require well-drained soils with a pH of 4.0 to 5.5. Best flowering occurs in partial to full sun.
Suggested Cultivars: 'Pink Lights' (pink flowers), 'Rosy Lights' (rose-pink), 'White Lights' (white), 'Spicy Lights' (soft orange), 'Lemon Lights' (light yellow), 'Mandarin Lights' (mandarin orange), 'Northern Hi-lights' (white with yellow), 'Orchid Lights' (soft lavender), 'Golden Lights' (gold).

Vanhoutte Spirea (Spiraea x vanhouttei)

Size: 6 to 8 feet tall with a similar spread.
Hardiness Zone: 3
Leaf Characteristics: Leaves are blue-green in summer. Fall color varies from yellow to reddish purple.
Flowers: Small, white flowers in 1 to 2 inch-wide clusters cover the plant in May.
Remarks: Vanhoutte spirea is a very tough plant. Has a distinctive arching, fountain-like growth habit.

Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

Size: 6 to 8 feet tall.
Hardiness Zone: 3
Leaf Characteristics: Foliage is medium to dark green in summer. Fall color varies from yellow to purplish red.
Flowers: Small, creamy white flowers are produced in flat-topped clusters in spring.
Fruit: Berry-like fruit turn blue in late summer.
Remarks: This native Iowa shrub grows well in partial shade to full sun.
Suggested Cultivars: Autumn Jazz and Chicago Lustre are widely sold and purportedly have superior fall color. Fall color, however, is sometimes disappointing. Blue Muffin grows 5 feet tall and bears a heavy fruit crop.

Weigela (Weigela florida)

Size: 5 to 7 feet tall.
Hardiness Zone: 5
Leaf Characteristics: Leaves are medium green in summer. No fall color.
Flowers: Funnel-shaped flowers appear in late May or June. Flower colors include white, pink red, and purple-red. Plants bloom sporadically through summer.
Remarks: Plants often suffer winter dieback in northern Iowa. Performs best in well-drained soils in full sun.
Suggested Cultivars: 'Minuet' (dwarf, ruby red flowers), 'Newport Red' (purple-red flowers), 'Pink Princess' (pink), 'Red Prince' (red), 'White Knight' (white), and Wine Roses (reddish purple foliage and rose flowers).
Other medium-size shrubs include purpleleaf sand cherry (Prunus x cistena), fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica), alpine currant (Ribes alpinum), dwarf Korean lilac (Syringa meyeri), and Judd viburnum (Viburnum x juddii).

This article originally appeared in the March 21, 2003 issue, pp. 26-29.

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