Shrubs are the little people of the woody plant world, wonderful in their own way, different enough to be very interesting. They range widely in size from the smallest ground hugging forms to what look like small multi-trunked trees. Indeed, many new inner city properties can have all the garden they need, using only an interesting choice of shrub material.

Shrubs differ from trees in a number of ways. A tree can be defined as a single-stem woody plant three metres high. Unless pruned to a single stem, most shrubs are multi-trunked and some left unpruned can develop hundreds of stems; think of old neglected French lilacs. The root system of shrubs is different from that of most trees. Much finer, more fibrous and concentrated near the root crown, some shrubs can be split, like a peony, into pieces and recover from the operation. This technique is most successful with shrubs that don't form a solid woody center.

Shrubs can be pruned in a number of ways that trees don't take well to. Shearing and shaping, although not my favorite, is one of them. Another is what I call little tree; it and size control through pruning are described previously in shrub pruning theory. Another option used when a shrub is too old, too big, and too hard to manage is a full rejuvenation, cutting the shrub to the root crown and beginning again. This can yield tremendous results and is best performed early in the spring or late in the fall. If done during the growing season the copious new shoots will not have time to harden off and will winter kill. It is best to leave the shrub alone for a year, seeing what is alive the next spring, and then make your plan. Usually a vigorous thinning is needed to establish a recognizable form.

Shrubs vary in size from ground hugging crawlers to twenty foot giants, sometimes eliminating the need for trees. With a little homework and looking around in parks and gardens you can become familiar with a large number and then be able to create many interesting garden areas. Shrubs function very well in gardens and naturally work well in a number of companion plantings, alongside trees and flower beds, with the trees in the background and annuals and perennials in the foreground. One good-looking arrangement is as an understory among trees, creating a varied back ground for the garden when seen from the edge. Understory planting goes hand in hand with what we call the shrub border, with or without trees as the back ground, A variety of shrubs can work very well alone as garden back ground. Climbing shrubs can provide interesting accents, growing up walls, trellises. up into trees or planted near any number of garden sculptures; clematis and honeysuckles are two of the best. At the ground level low lying creeping shrubs can furnish a beautiful carpet in areas of your garden. Crawling cotoneasters, ground hugging junipers and little mounds of daphne, all require us to kneel down in awe.

Articles Index