Midwest Regional Reports

Shrubs That Bloom in Late Spring and Early Summer

These eye-catching, fragrant selections will fill in the slump between seasons in your Midwestern garden

Chardonnay Pearls slender deutzia
Chardonnay Pearls® slender deutzia is a dwarf shrub with a sweet fragrance and tiny, white, cup-shaped flowers. Photo: Mark Dwyer

We incorporate shrubs, both deciduous and evergreen, for a wide range of purposes. Perhaps we’re providing scale along the foundation of a structure, creating separation, or establishing privacy. While shrubs offer a wide range of functional contributions, those with intoxicating fragrances add an additional sensory component and dimension to the garden. Ideally, these shrubs also provide other seasons of interest and ornamental contributions with colorful fruiting, fall color, wildlife value, or perhaps extended winter interest.

Included below are three selections of fragrant shrubs that bloom during that time of year between spring and summer. In addition to being fragrant, all of these shrubs, while looking very different, have white flowers. Each has a long track record of providing soothing scents and bright seasonal interest.

Fragrant abelia flowers
Fragrant abelia flowers bloom in loose, ball-shaped clusters that create an interesting overall shape. Photo: Mark Dwyer

Fragrant abelia

Abelia mosanensis syn. Zabelia tyaihyonii, Zones 5–9

This shrub is finally starting to receive the recognition it deserves for extremely fragrant late spring flowers. The jasmine-like scent from fragrant abelia comes from white flowers that open from tight, pink buds in May and June. Loose, arching stems give this shrub an informal appearance at a mature height of 6 feet tall. Pruning should be done right after flowering as needed, since fragrant abelia blooms on old wood. Attractive to butterflies, this plant is resistant to deer and has no serious insect or disease problems. It does best in full sun to partial shade. The fall foliage color is a bright orange and significantly showy.

variegated mock orange
The flowers of variegated mock orange bloom white, furthering exacerbating the effect of the variegation. Photo: Mark Dwyer

Variegated mock orange

Philadelphus coronarius cvs., Zones 4–7

Mock orange features cup-shaped blooms in late spring that offer an extended radius of powerful sweet fragrance. Variegated mock orange cultivars have white and cream edges and margins. The varieties ‘E. A. Bowles’ and ‘Variegatus’ are identical (and hard to find!), offering foliage impact for the entire growing season. They grow to about 8 feet tall and take full sun to partial shade. Adaptable to heavy soil, mock orange should be pruned after flowering, as it blooms on old wood.

Chardonnay Pearls slender deutizia flowers
The bright chartreuse and white colors of Chardonnay Pearls® slender deutzia’s foliage and flowers grab your attention. Photo: Mark Dwyer

Chardonnay Pearls® slender deutzia

Deutzia gracilis ‘Duncan’, Zones 5–8

Chardonnay Pearls® slender deutzia is an excellent performer and a great substitution for the commonly planted golden Japanese spirea (Spiraea japonica cvs., Zones 4–9) selections. This shrub is in the hydrangea family and is native to Japan and some of mainland Asia. The chartreuse foliage is eye-catching, looking brightest in full sun. Tight white spring buds (pearls) open to showy flowers in later spring. I’ve observed the use of this shrub in some tough locations, and it has done well with a mature size of roughly 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide. The flowers last about 2 weeks and are lightly fragrant. Full-sun locations will result in more flowers. While drought tolerant (and deer resistant), this shrub does prefer more moisture, as prolonged dry periods may result in some leaf burn in full sun. Light shearing is easily accomplished after flowering to maintain a more symmetrical, rounded form. The late-season fall color in November can be spectacular, with hints of maroon.

—Mark Dwyer, former director of horticulture at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, Wisconsin, operates Landscape Prescriptions by MD.

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