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The Toughest Shrubs

Are you looking for a tough shrub? Consider these "gas station" plants!

Japanese barberry
Japanese barberry

Do you need to select a tough shrub for your yard? Don’t go to your local garden center for inspiration. Go to the nearest gas station.

Gas stations are where plants go to die. Shrubs at gas stations are totally neglected. They are never watered and are surrounded by heat-trapping rock mulch. The air is polluted, and the soil is soaked with gas and salt. Shrubs at gas stations are never pruned—usually they die first.

Any shrub that can survive at a gas station can survive in your landscape. The next time you fill up your car’s gas tank, take a moment to see if any of the plants nearby are surviving. You likely will see one of these rugged shrubs:

The toughest shrub may be Japanese barberry (shown). These durable plants come in a wide range of colors including purple, yellow and green. Barberry can withstand heat, drought and poor soil. Its stems have sharp spines that make it deer-proof. Some scientists classify barberry as an invasive "weed," but that is not always a bad quality. It's hardy to Zone 4.

Potentilla
Potentilla
A rugged shrub with beautiful flowers is potentilla (shown). Its bright golden flowers adorn the shrub all summer long. Native to our area, it thrives in our harsh climate.

Japanese spirea
Japanese spirea
Pink-flowering spireas (shown) are tough plants. Some spireas have green leaves while others have gold leaves. The most vigorous varieties have dark green leaves. These leaves are packed full of chlorophyll, which produces energy for plants. Keep in mind that gold-leaf spirea and other gold-leaf shrubs don’t have as much chlorophyll and are naturally weaker. Spireas are hardy to Zone 4.

If you need a hardy shrub with purple leaves, a great choice is ‘Diabolo’ ninebark. It’s tough as nails.

Aronia (chokeberry)
Aronia
If fruits are important to you, consider aronia (a.k.a. chokeberry) (shown). It is pest-free, grows quickly, bears blueberry-like fruits (unfortunately they taste bitter), and has radiant red fall color.

Rugosa rose
Rugosa rose
Everyone loves roses, but most roses require lots of maintenance. Consider the rugosa rose (shown). These plants tolerate heat, drought, salt and wind—hey, that makes them perfect for us in North Dakota! Some varieties bloom all summer and have scarlet rose hips in winter. Popular selections include Blanc Double de Coubert (white), Therese Bugnet (pink), Lotty’s Love (purple) and Fru Dagmar Hartopp (light pink).

Juniper
Juniper
If you need an evergreen, nothing is tougher than junipers (shown). These rugged shrubs are hardy, tolerate drought and will survive in saline soils.

These “gas station plants” can survive the most brutal conditions your landscape can offer. But don’t treat your landscape like a gas station. Show a bit of love to your plants and they’ll reward you many times over.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Photos courtesy of Proven Winners, www.provenwinners.com; Joanna Dubaj from Pixabay; and Jan Haerer from Pixabay.

 

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