Steele: Choosing water-wise shrubs

The plant database at provides a useful guide to select plants appropriate for the Okanagan.

Euonymous ‘Emerald Gaiety’ climbing a honey locust tree.

Euonymous ‘Emerald Gaiety’ climbing a honey locust tree.

With careful selection and placement, shrubs can be used to create a very easy-care, beautiful landscape.

The plant database at provides a useful guide to select plants appropriate for Okanagan landscape conditions and desired features.

First, read the database explanation page for information about the 23 search categories.

Begin by selecting plant type and conditions of light, water, and hardiness zone.

Note: All shrubs need regular watering until established. Group shrubs with similar water needs together or use drip irrigation with different emitters to accommodate variation.

Factors to consider:


Space plants so they can grow to mature size without crowding other plants, or walkways, buildings and fences.

Ensure the mature height won’t block a window or desired view or run into power lines or clothesline.

Planting for mature size will minimize pruning, saving time and reducing yard waste debris disposal.

Empty spaces can be planted with perennials or ornamental grasses that can be transplanted elsewhere as shrubs mature.

Bloom time:

Choose shrubs with different bloom times. Most have a two to four week blooming period in spring. Some varieties of Potentilla fruiticosa and Rugosa rose bloom in spring and fall or continuously.

Caryopteris ‘Dark Knight’ (Bluebeard) is an attractive five by five foot silver-leaved shrub, smothered in vibrant blue flowers in August and September. It attracts many different pollinators.


Foliage colour and texture are important for interest throughout the growing season.

Choose from burgundy, golden/chaurtreuse, silver/grey, variegated, many shades of green and evergreen.

Burgundy shrubs are in big demand. Water-wise ones include some varieties of berberis, ninebark, and smoke bush.

Winter appearance:

There will be year round, unchanging colour from evergreens such as dwarf Mugo pines, globe blue spruce, yew and juniper varieties.

Also consider the bare branch structure and bark of deciduous shrubs.

Mature ninebarks and beauty bush have interesting peeling bark.

Special features:

To attract more birds into the garden, select some shrubs from the special feature ‘food for birds.’ There are also categories for shrubs that attract hummingbirds or butterflies.

Erosion control and spreader categories include plants with spreading and/or suckering roots.

For example, Grow-Low Sumac is a very effective, extremely drought tolerant and weed smothering ground cover shrub.

Design ideas:

Use shrubs with different bloom times and foliage colours to create an interesting informal hedge.

Shrubs can add year round structure and a background in large plantings of perennials.

Never do scatter-gun plantings of individual shrubs or trees in a lawn.

This creates mowing challenges and more edges to trim.

A well-mulched mixed planting of different shrubs can create a very attractive, low maintenance alternative to lawn. With an overall design, it could begin as a small area and gradually be added to as more lawn is removed.

An interesting ‘secret garden’ could be made with meandering pathways that lead through a mixed planting of large shrubs and small trees (e.g. Amur maple) to a secluded sitting area.

Kelowna Capital News