Gardening: Guide takes the mystery out of choosing, caring for shrubs

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

Designing, selecting and shopping for shrubs can be a daunting task, especially for folks new to landscaping and gardening.  Many make selections on impulse and often, as the plants mature, the plants outgrow their spaces and are sheared into unnatural shapes or are left to develop into overgrown tangles. Others with cultural needs that are not met struggle for years, never meeting their visual potential. 

Drawing on her decades of experience in the plant care and landscape industries and horticulture education, as well as her passion for shrubs, Ava Monheim has written "Shrubs & Hedges: Discover, Grow and Care for the World’s Most Popular Plants" (Cool Springs Press) to take the mystery out of shrub selection. 

Invincibelle Mini Mauvette hydrangea blooms annually, even in cold climates, and is impervious to bad pruning. It's the same type of hydrangea as the classic and much-loved 'Annabelle' but instead of plain white blooms, the flowers are a deep pink-mauve, and they're held up on strong, sturdy stems that don't flop. The show begins in early summer and because Invincibelle Mini Mauvette is a rebloomer, it continues clear through frost.

This excellent reference tool is written in friendly and easy to understand language that homeowners, professional gardeners, landscapers and everyone in between can understand and enjoy.  It’s a practical, ordinary person’s guide to choosing plants that not only enhances the landscape but also benefits the environment. 

The chapter on attracting pollinators, including birds and butterflies, explains the value of staggering bloom times and the focus on plant diversity when choosing shrubs. 

The section on pruning is well illustrated and includes disbudding evergreens to control growth. 

There are also recommendations on management and plant lists for special sites, such as steep slopes, hillsides, water gardens and ponds. 

She also covers how, when and where to purchase shrubs. 

Hydrangeas are the No.1  flowering plant for use in landscapes and gardens, and today there are dozens to choose from.  

Using Ava Monheim’s recommendations, the following two are on my wish list, most important for their size ­­– they’ll fit comfortably in the OPC garden without needing heavy pruning. Second, they have a long bloom time and the blossoms age gracefully, cutting down on grooming the summer. Blooming on new wood, these members of the Hydrangea arborescens specie are reliable bloomers and rock hardy here in Michigan.  

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Haas’ Halo’ matures to 3 to 5 feet in height and this white lace cap (my fave) produces elegant blossoms over 14 inches in width, held upright on sturdy stems, which provide easy access for pollinators. The flowers are handsomely displayed against leathery, blue-green foliage, and will dry on the plant, remaining attractive for months. 

Another H. arborescens on my list is Invincible ‘Mini Mauvette,’ producing blossoms that are a sparkling combo of pink highlighted by mauve. This sturdy-stemmed rebloomer flowers from summer through fall and remains a tidy 30-36” in height – an easy-care addition to our mixed border.    

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at