Shrubs for the Willamette Valley Landscape

Living in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, you very well may have a yard that borders a forest line, oak savannah, grassy field or prairie, or a little mix of all. If you’ve found yourself thinking that those border areas feel drab, and wonder what you could do to soften the edges and enhance aesthetics, then we’re here to help.

Use shrubs to transform those drab areas into a lush, enchanting and easy to care for landscape that will bring you joy for years to come.

Benefits of Growing Shrubs

Shrubs are defined by their woody stems branching out of the base of the plant from multiple trunks, stems or canes. Shrubs are found in various sizes, ranging from petite and compact to grand and sprawling, offering an array of captivating forms and textures to complement any garden or outdoor space.

More benefits from growing shrubs:

  • Provide structure and form.
  • Create depth and dimension.
  • Lend a touch of elegance and definition to your outdoor sanctuary.
  • Create natural barriers and provide privacy.
  • Mitigate noise pollution acting as a buffer between your yard and a busy road.
  • Promote biodiversity by attracting a diverse range of wildlife, including birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects.
  • Offer a sustainable and low-maintenance landscaping solution as once they are established they often require less water and upkeep compared to more demanding plant varieties.

Choose the Right Shrub for Your Site

Not every shrub will grow in every spot in the yard. There are groups of shrubs that do better than others in certain areas depending on the sun exposure, soil conditions, wind exposure, and overall purpose of the planting.

Inspired from the book The Random House Book of Shrubs by Roger Phillips & Martyn Rix, here are shrub suggestions for those unique areas and situations that our beautiful Willamette Valley has to offer.

Wood Edges

Ilex, Magnolia, Cornus, Rhododendron, Philadelphus, Viburnum, Mahonia, Hydrangea, Daphne

  • The edges of forests are the most natural habitats for shrubs where forming a transition zone between woodland and lawn, or grassland, can enhance the aesthetic.
  • Many shrubs benefit from the shelter of trees, and can tolerate the partial shade.
  • Soften the unnatural edges of pathways, retaining walls or foundations with the lacey and lush foliage of shrubs.

Understory Beneath Large Trees

Rhododendron, Camellia, Magnolia, Mahonia, Hamamelis, Corylopsis, Enkianthus, Hydrangea, Bamboos, Deciduous Azaleas

  • Particularly evergreen shrubs grow naturally in open deciduous or mixed forest, beneath a tall canopy of trees.
  • Some deciduous shrubs grow and flower well in partially shaded areas where the canopy isn’t too dense.
  • Many, such as witchhazel, flower early before the leaves have developed on the large trees.
  • Deciduous azaleas appreciate partial shade as well.

Wetland Edges

Spiraea, Itea, Ilex glabra, Salix, Cornus

  • Wet prairies and seasonal wetlands have natural shrub components as well, providing great habitat for many creatures.
  • Sites that are constantly or seasonally wet provide a special challenge – and even more when they are very wet in winter and rather dry in summer.
  • Provide some water for the first couple of years (if dry in summer) until plants are more mature and durable.

Shrub Border

Lilac, Deutzia, Hibiscus ‘Rose of Sharon’, Philadelphus, Weigela, Ribes sanguineum, Spiraea

  • Creating a shrub border with 5 or less types of shrubs (with seasonal interest in mind) along the property line, back fence or driveway, is a low maintenance way to add interest.
  • Plant shrubs close enough that their branches touch, but not so close that they interfere with one another’s growth.
  • Taller and more robust shrubs should be planted in the back of the border.
  • Smaller and more delicate shrubs should be planted near the front of the border.
  • Carefully plan your spacing, though it is quite inevitable that the border will be planted rather too closely and require thinning after a few years.
  • Early flowering bulbs which die down by mid-summer will do well beneath deciduous shrubs. Suitable bulbs: Galanthus, Hyacinth, Crocus, Scillas and Daffodils.
  • Weeding by herbicides is possible when no herbaceous plants are grown – or after the bulbs have gone dormant.

Mixed Border

  • Trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants and bulbs grow together in harmony, yet is the most difficult, labor intensive, but most rewarding landscape.
  • Shrubs are the dominant feature – planted as to create the effect of small glades or clearings with herbaceous plants enclosed in semi-circles of shrubs.
  • Other plantings are kept simple.
  • Make good use of groundcovers, weed-smothering perennials, that are tough.


Ilex, Prunus lusitanica, Buxus, Chamaecyparis, Philadelphus, Cupressus, Carpinus, Ligustrum

  • Many hedges – Ilex, Buxus and Chamaecyparis for example – are evergreen and provide year round screening.
  • Large Philadelphus make a good hedge, quick-growing, spectacular and scenting the whole garden in mid-summer as does lilacs in late spring.
  • Low defining hedges may also be created from lower deciduous or flowering shrubs such as Spiraea.

Walls & Climbers

Clematis, Wisteria, Roses, Lonicera

  • The use of climbing shrubs can soften hard lines of fences, arbors, and walls.
  • Walls can also provide a protected environment for shrubs which need more heat than they would receive in the open air, either in winter for those that are tender, or summer to produce flowers or ripen their summer growth.

Ground Cover

Cotoneasters, Euonymus fortunei, Ceanothus, Rubus calycinoides

  • Woody stemmed plants that are naturally creeping can be used in place of more herbaceous ground cover.
  • Also consider using horizontal growing shrubs such as Hebe, Juniper, Azalea, or Distylium to fill in space and reduce weedy competition.


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Watering Plants & Protecting Them From Extreme Heat

Extreme heat, particularly in early summer when plants haven’t acclimated to the heat, can have harsh effects on the garden. To minimize heat damage there are several things you can do to protect your plants:

Water Properly

High temperatures can take moisture from the top soil quickly, dehydrating shallow rooted plants. Water your plants in the  morning before the peak heat of the day so that water can seep into the root system adequately. Try to water your garden deeply 3 or 4 times per week during the hottest streaks.

Avoid Overwatering

Protect your plants from the damaging effects of overwatering by checking the soil with you fingers to see how dry it actually is before watering. Overwatering can lead to root rot and fungal diseases.


If expecting extreme heat, a little more than a 2-3 inch layer of mulch around your plants. Mulch helps maintain moisture in the soil, protects soil nutrients from leaching out, and regulates the temperature of the garden bed. Check out our post Mulching for Healthy Soil and Ecosystem for great tips on mulching.

Provide Shade

Providing shade for young plants can be accomplished by companion planting (planting immature low growing plants in the space below taller plants), adding a patio umbrella or a lightweight shade cloth draped over garden stakes to shield your plants from the direct sun and high temperatures.

Choose Plants that are Heat & Drought Tolerant

Plant vegetables and plants that can stand up to the heat. Check out our plant list of PNW drought tolerant plants.

Vegetables that like the heat:

– Sweet Potatoes
– Sweet & Hot Pepper varieties
– Okra
– Cucumbers
– Corn
– Eggplant
– Beans
– Tomatoes

Flowers that like it hot:

– Lantana
– Zinnias
– Celosia
– Gaillardia
– Shasta Daisies
– Ornamental Grasses

Plant Seeds a Little Deeper

If you are succession gardening and sowing seeds for fall harvest, then plant your seeds a little deeper into the soil than suggested. Since the topsoil can quickly dehydrate from high heat and direct sunlight, planting seeds an extra inch or 2 below the soil’s surface can allow seeds to germinate effectively with less risk of drying out.

Use Safety When Gardening in Extreme Heat

Take care of yourself first so you can take care of your garden! Avoid working in the garden during the peak of the midday heat. Instead, work in the garden in the early hours of the day, slow down and try not to do too much, take regular breaks, and drink plenty of water.

Blog courtesy of Kellogg Garden Products

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