If you are like me, you are always looking to see what the latest and greatest shrubs are to add to the landscape. I look for shrubs that are not just cold tolerant but that stay small without much effort while providing a “wow” factor. Thankfully, there are folks out there constantly working on new introductions to keep us wanting more. Here are a few of the newest compact shrubs for 2020 to look at adding to your Northern Plains landscape.
Pinktini™ Preston lilac
Syringa × prestoniae ‘Jeftin’, Zones 2–7
Bred from the popular ‘Miss Canada’ Preston lilac (Syringa × prestoniae ‘Miss Canada’, Zones 2–7), which reaches 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide, Pinktini™ Preston lilac reaches a height and spread of only 4 to 5 feet, making it the perfect little shrub. It is nonsuckering and hardy down to Zone 2. What this lilac lacks in size it more than makes up for with fragrant bright pink flowers in late spring and dusty red to purple foliage in the fall. Add this shrub to your foundation plantings, or pick up a few and create a small screen where you can enjoy their heavenly scent.
Iceberg Alley® sageleaf willow
Salix candida ‘Jefberg’, Zones 2–6
I am excited to see how people use this new sageleaf willow in their landscapes. This small native shrub grows only 3 to 6 feet wide and just as tall. It offers powdery, silver foliage that creates excellent contrast and texture. In spring, silver catkins that are highlighted with red stamens grace the branches. This shrub responds wonderfully to pruning, and the catkins make great cut flowers.
Ground Hog™ aronia
Aronia melanocarpa ‘UCONNAM012′, Zones 3–9
Ground Hog™ aronia is a good shrub to use for a dense ground cover in those difficult-to-maintain areas. As a native shrub, this plant can withstand our tough winters, periodic droughts, and wide range of soils. Individual plants reach a height of 8 to 14 inches tall and a spread of 36 inches. They are covered with glossy green foliage and white flowers in spring, followed by dark purple berries in fall—which birds thoroughly enjoy—nestled among red fall foliage. This is a perfect pick to naturalize and stabilize a hillside, but it can also be tucked into a manicured landscape.
These small, well-behaved shrubs are exactly what you may be looking for. They are compact and hardy plants that need little maintenance but offer multiseason interest, making any one of them a great addition to your garden.
—Chris Schlenker is the head gardener of McCrory Gardens at South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota.
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