Use versatile shrubs to add visual interest

Nursery owner lists his seven favorites
2012-05-06T00:00:00Z Use versatile shrubs to add visual interestElena Acoba Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Shrubs are workhorses in the landscape. They act as hedges or other visual barriers, stand on their own as specimen plants and accent sculptural species such as yuccas and agaves.

Greg Starr particularly likes that last use for shrubs as a way to add interest in a desert landscape.

"One thing I like to talk about is to advocate companion planting," says Starr, owner of Starr Nursery, which sells mail-order succulents.

Shrubs in bloom add color to the landscape. When a deciduous shrub is dormant, a yucca or an agave will take over the aesthetic interest. Starr has spoken to groups about shrubs, which he defines as "something that grows from many stems at ground level."

He offers seven that he likes to see in residential landscapes.

• Flame anisacanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus). A 4- to-5-footer, its brilliant orange-red flowers bloom in late summer and fall and it attracts hummingbirds.

• Woolly butterfly bush (Buddleja marrubiifolia). As its common name suggests, the tiny orange flower clusters on this 6-foot bush attract several butterfly species from spring through fall. It's very drought tolerant, so needs good soil drainage.

• Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana). This tough 2-foot plant takes full sun. Bright yellow flowers top stems of rich green leaves from spring through fall.

• Black dalea (Dalea frutescens). The tiny, rich rose-purple flowers attract bees in the fall. The 3- to 4-footer "definitely is a color accent with desert spoons, yucca and some bigger agaves," says Starr.

• Silverleaf sage (Leucophyllum candidum). Its white leaves make this 4- to 5-foot plant a good contrast to greener bushes. Its deep purple flowers bloom after a good rainfall.

• Autumn sage (Salvia greggii). This hummingbird and butterfly attraction provides spring and fall color. Pink and red versions of the 2- to 3-foot plant survive Tucson's climate better than other flower colors.

• Slipper flower (Pedilanthus macrocarpus). Starr calls this a stretch since it's considered a spurge succulent. "It's a shrubby succulent," he calls it. Specimens with greener stems will grow 5 to 6 feet, while gray versions will grow little more than 3 feet. Both sport orange-red blossoms in warm weather.

Nursery owner Greg Starr provides pointers for growing a shrub.

• Plant in an area that can accommodate its mature size without having to trim back.

• Transplant into an area with good drainage.

• Plant the soil ball at least level with the existing grade.

• Don't add organic matter when transplanting.

• Don't trim into an unnatural shape, which can damage the plant.

• Some shrubs will grow back if trimmed to the ground to handle frost damage or to refresh their look.

Contact local freelance writer Elena Acoba at acoba@dakotacom.net

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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