For three seasons of the year, loving your garden shrubs is easy. In spring, flowers bloom and new growth emerges. Summer foliage reaches the pinnacle of its rich color, and blooms attract butterflies and birds that the kids will love to observe. Fall foliage fills the landscape with bronze, copper and gold tones. But winter? Not so much -- unless you plant shrubs that offer four-season interest. Whether through flowers, fruits, foliage or wood, four-season shrubs create a attractive landscape year-round.
Less Than 6 Feet Tall
St. John's wort (Hypericum kalmianum) offers year-round interest, says the Morton Arboretum. This low-growing shrub has blue-green foliage that turns red and orange in autumn, and it blooms through summer with bright, sunny blossoms. In winter, St. John's wort displays its exfoliating bark and red-brown seed capsules. It's hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5b to 10a and grows best in well-draining soil. The Northern bayberry (Myrical pensylvanica) adds fragrance and year-round color, says the University of Illinois Extension. This North American native's leathery, semi-evergreen foliage releases a familiar bayberry scent, while the gray-green fruits last from fall through winter. In spring, the bayberry produces yellow catkins. Plant a female cultivar, such as "Myda," and a male cultivar, such as "Myriman," for the best fruit production. The Northern bayberry is hardy to USDA zone 2 and tolerates a variety of site conditions.
Up to 8 Feet Tall
The Morton Arboretum recommends the fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) for year-round interest. This 6-foot-tall deciduous shrub blooms with showy, aromatic white flowers in early spring, before cloaking itself in blue-green summer foliage that turns red, orange and gold in fall. Even in winter, the fothergilla's silver-gray bark looks attractive. Plant the fothergilla in USDA zones 5 to 8a in moist, acidic soil. The bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) adds interest to the garden year-round, says the Morton Arboretum. Its yellow-green new foliage deepens to dark green; in summer, showy white flowers bloom, followed by brown fruits. In fall, this shrub's foliage turns yellow and silver-gray bark adds winter interest. The bottlebrush buckeye grows to 8 feet tall and prefers shady, moist sites in USDA zones 5 to 9a.
Up to 10 Feet Tall
The oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) grows slowly to 10 feet tall and is hardy in USDA zones 5b to 9. In spring, this shrub's foliage emerges with a soft, fuzzy layer; from summer through fall, it blooms with large, white-pink flowers. Summer foliage turns purple-green in autumn, then drops to reveal exfoliating, red-brown bark and long-lasting dried flowers. The spicebush (Lindera benzoin) also reaches heights of 10 feet. Hardy in USDA zones 4b to 9a, this deciduous shrub is named for the scent released by its crushed foliage. The spicebush blooms early in spring with yellow flowers, followed by finely textured foliage that turns yellow in autumn. This shrub produces red fruits in fall, and offers winter interest with its arching, grayish branches.
More Than 10 Feet Tall
The "Sparkleberry" winterberry (Ilex verticillata "Sparkleberry") produces red fruits that last through the winter and spring, attracting birds to the yard. In summer, this deciduous shrub has shiny, dark leaves that turn burgundy in fall. Winterberries are hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9 and grow to 12 feet tall. A member of the holly family, the possumhaw (Ilex decidua) grows to 18 feet tall and is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9a, where it grows best in moist, well-draining soil. The possumhaw blooms in spring with white flowers; its dark, glossy summer foliage turns yellow in fall. This deciduous shrub produces bright-red berries that last through much of the winter.