Top 5 Shrubs for the Four Seasons

In any well planned out landscape, the backbone of the design are the trees and shrubs. They should not only be impressive on their own but work together as well; moving the viewer's eye easily over the entire garden. Often they are evergreens which provide an interesting backdrop of different textures of greens and blues year round. There are many more deciduous shrubs and trees that can fill that four season interest requirement as well. They are what brings a garden alive in spring, summer, fall and winter. They are especially helpful in small landscapes where every shrub or tree in the design should be carefully considered. 

A four season interest shrub/tree provides ‘that something’ each season to make it stand out.

That ‘something’ can be distinctive bark and twig shapes, scented blooms, unique leaf shapes, spring, summer and  fall leaf color, colorful berries which provide food for humans and birds and colorful twigs and bark.

For example, Mountain Ash tree varieties are popular four-season interest trees. In spring, they have white clusters of flowers. In summer, the leaves are very distinct with each leaflet having toothed edges giving these trees a lovely visual texture. Berries form after flowering and with the arrival of fall the berries and leaves turn to shades of orange, yellow and red. In winter, the clusters of berries remain on the tree to provide food for birds. These periods of interest often overlap. In short, there is always something happening. 

My top four season shrub picks can easily be grown in Zone 3. They all come in various shapes and sizes making them an easy addition to any garden in Saskatoon.   
Top 5  -  Four Season Deciduous Shrubs

Ninebarks (Physocarpus opulifolia) - Zone 2 to 8, Full Sun

Ninebarks are probably the most interesting four-season shrubs due to their many outstanding qualities. Most varieties have beautiful colored leaves in spring, summer and fall and clusters of creamy white or pink flowers in spring and summer which show up against the colorful leaves. The flowers turn into red berries and the bark of this shrub shows as peeling in layers which is totally normal. Ninebarks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They grow quickly, like full sun and a moist, well- draining soil. The soil should be a neutral pH or on the slightly acidic side.  They will also tolerate rocky and clay soils.  Very little pruning is needed. 
Bees love the flowers. The flowers, berries and branches are often used in flower arrangements.  Ninebark are deer resistant and drought tolerant once established. The berries attract birds. 

Here are just a few varieties of Ninebark that grow in our area:

Summer Wine, Diablo, Coppertina, Dart’s Gold, Centre Glow, Tiny Wine, Panther, Petite Plume, Ginger Wine
Red Leaf Rose (Rosa glauca or rubrifulia) - Zone 2 to 8, Full Sun

The Red Leaf Rose is often an over-looked shrub that can be gorgeous in the right location. The mature size of this shrub is usually 1.5 m with a 1.5 – 2.1 m spread. I have seen larger specimens. I would allow 2.1 m in height by 2.4 m in width.
Red Leaf Roses love full sun and are really not particular as to soil type and pH. Do not plant in a wet location. Prune back the large canes of this shrub in late winter to shape and encourage new colorful growth to be produced. 

The leaves are bluish green to purple in color and pinnately compound having 5-7 leaflets to a leaf. The canes or branches are reddish purple and do contain thorns. Single pink, 5 petalled flowers cover this shrub from late spring to late summer. They stand out brightly from the dark purple foliage.  Deadhead to encourage more blooms. The flowers mature into bright red/orange seed hips which make excellent tea. This rose shrub is not a hybrid so any seedlings will remain true to the parent plant. Fall leaf color is burgundy and the red branches provide winter color along with the persistent rose hips. 

Bees, butterflies, birds and other pollinators love the flowers of this shrub. The red leaf rose is deer resistant. A plus for the prairies!

Dogwood (Cornus spp.) - Zone 2 to 8, Full Sun to Part Shade

Dogwoods are known for their rapid growth rate, colorful branches and ability to withstand partly shady locations.  Like the Ninebarks, they are a large group of flowering shrubs that can range in height from 60 cm to 3.6 m in height. The Golden Variegated and Ivory Halo Dogwoods have leaves that are yellow/green and a variegated white/green. Dogwoods like an organically rich, well- drained soil. Their white flowers appear in early spring, followed by black or white berries in summer, and a beautiful fall foliage display.  Birds love the berries but they are toxic to humans. As the shrubs mature it is wise to prune some of the older branches to ground level in late winter which encourages new more colorful branches to sprout.   The only down side to dogwoods is deer like them too! A new dogwood on the market is Neon Burst. The new chartreuse leaves are tinged with bronze. The stems are red and the fall color is a brilliant mix of red, yellow, orange and purple. All of this and blue/white berries in fall. Deer and rabbit resistant!!

Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) - Zone 3 to 8, Full Sun to Part Shade

I am sure some of you are familiar with Aronia or Black Chokeberry. The berries are similar to chokecherries in taste, texture and leave you with a dry mouth. This berry is often sold in the form of a supplement, juices, jams and jellies as it is an important source of antioxidants, folate, iron, and vitamins A, C, and E. Black Chokeberry is a shrub that matures to a height of 1.5-1.8 m with a 1.2-1.8 m spread. It is a good choice for a moist soil area and the berries are easy to pick as the reddish brown branches do not have thorns.  The leaves are a glossy dark green and this shrub bears a beautiful white flower display in spring and early summer.  The black berries grow in clusters and hang onto the branches for most of the winter. Birds will only eat them as a last resort! 

The best of this shrub is saved for the fall. They have outstanding red-orange fall color- one of the best fall color shrubs I have ever seen.  The cultivar, Autumn Magic is especially beautiful in the fall and the flowers are fragrant!
Saskatoons (Amelanchier alnifolia) - Zone 2 to 8, Full Sun to Part Shade

Last, but certainly far from least, is our own Saskatoon shrub. Saskatoons are native to North America and are extremely hardy; surviving temperatures as low as -51 degrees C. Most of the cultivars are self- pollinating and the purple berries are rich in flavonoids, antioxidants and polyphenols. They are very sweet and tasty raw and are used in jams, juices, pies, desserts, sausages, salads and wines.

Saskatoon bushes like deep, rich soil and to be kept moist throughout the summer. Water at ground level as they are sometimes prone to fungal diseases. They will reach fruit bearing age 2-3 years after planting. Depending on the cultivar, Saskatoons can reach heights of 2-3 m at maturity. 
These beautiful shrubs with blue/green leaves produce white blossoms in April – May which are followed by the purple – black fruit. Birds, deer, rabbits and bear all love Saskatoons.  Rabbits and deer especially like the flowers and leaves!
Fruit aside, the second best thing about Saskatoons is their fall color. The leaves are so pretty turning a yellow/crimson color with subtle splotches of light pink. They really are beautiful. 

I must admit their winter look is nothing outstanding but sometimes the fall leaves hang on with the dried fruit that will feed the birds.

If you are thinking about planting Saskatoons this fall or next spring here are a few named cultivars to consider:

Northline, Honeywood, Smoky, Martin, Thiessen, Parkhill

1 comment

  • Really good information……thankyou !

    Sandi Bader

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