A brief introduction to shrubs

What’s a shrub and why should you grow them?

A shrub is basically a plant which doesn’t die completely back in the winter. You’re left with either a framework of branches (if it’s deciduous), or leaves (if it’s evergreen). If your shrub gets really big you can call it a tree.

I think shrubs suffer with a poor reputation, perhaps because ‘shrub’ is such an drab name, or because they are considered a bit old fashioned. However, you can find a shrub for almost any situation, many have beautiful flowers, lovely leaves, or attractive berries. They’re probably the easiest, and most low maintenance type of plant you can choose for your garden.

Shrubs are great if you don’t have much time for gardening, or want to make things easy for yourself.

How to garden with shrubs:

So, there are 2 key rules to gardening successfully with shrubs:

1) Choose your shrub well

First of all, make sure you’re choosing a shrub that will do well in the soil you’ve got (see below for a list of shrubs for chalk soils), and in the amount of sunlight it’s going to get. Check back at my section on understanding your garden if you’re not sure. Next, make sure it’s the right size. I’ll say that again louder: MAKE SURE IT’S THE RIGHT SIZE. The main mistake people make when buying shrubs is seeing a sweet little baby shrub in the garden centre and taking it home without checking on its eventual size. Before they know it, they’ve got a monster that has swallowed their house. Alternatively, they are locked into a perpetual cycle of trying to cut their shrub back to the size they wanted – often this means ending up with an ugly blob-shaped shrub that never flowers. A shrub will do its best, and look most beautiful, if it’s allowed to grow to the size it wants to be.

2) Understand how to prune

We’ll look at this in more detail in our practical sessions. However, there’s no need to get too worried about pruning. Most of the time, you can’t kill a plant by pruning it (unless you use a chainsaw…). Most shrubs fall into 3 categories:

  • Those that need little or no pruning
  • Early flowering shrubs that need to be pruned straight after flowering
  • Later flowering shrubs that need to be pruned in early spring.

Once you’re confident in what you’re doing, pruning is actually a very satisfying and creative task. A well pruned shrub will live longer, be healthier and flower better.

Shrubs for chalk soil:

Many gardens in Seaford have chalk soils. This means the soil tends to be dry, stony and low in nutrients. However, there are a wide range of garden shrubs which will thrive in chalk soils. Here’s a list of a few to get you started…

Shrubs for clay soil:

If you don’t have chalk soil and you live in Seaford, you’ve probably got clay. This is a list of a few of my favourite shrubs for clay soils (some of these shrubs will thrive in both chalk and clay).

More information:

Have a look at Chapter 6 of our textbook: RHS How to Garden. This also has some suggestions if you’re looking for shrubs with particular characteristics.


  • There’s some information on the How Does Your Garden Grow website on recommended shrubs:
  • The Crocus website has a plant finder where you can choose shrubs for different situations
  • The RHS plant finder is a much more comprehensive database – you can search lots of different criteria but it does throw up a lot of results which can be a bit overwhelming.
  • If you want to learn more about pruning, a great place to start is Cass Turnbull’s videos on YouTube. Her organisation, ‘Plant Amnesty’, aims to stop people cruelly disfiguring plants by bad pruning.
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