Auto dealerships aren't the only places to find compact and mid-size models: Nurseries have them, too. And shrubs of this size are the perfect addition to the other plants in your landscape.
These smaller shrubs that can easily find a place in your landscape design are the ones that mature from one foot high and wide to six feet high and wide. They are noninvasive and the perfect size and habit for planting around a house. They won't gobble up your windows if not pruned for several years and can offer flowers and interesting foliage while staying manageable in size.
Here are some compact to mid-size shrubs to consider planting this season:
* Azalea is among the first that come to mind in this size range. Several dependable low growers are robin hill and satsuki hybrids. They're big enough to be accommodating, but not so large that they take over the planting beds.
Robin hills are low-growing, broad-spreading, late-flowering evergreen azaleas. The hybrid named conversation piece grows 2 feet tall by 2 1/2 feet wide and has blossoms of pink, red and white all at the same time. It flowers later than most azaleas, in late May to June.
Satsuki hybrids are dainty in leaf and stature, with flowers that are three to four inches in diameter. The way to choose one is to learn the shrub's mature size. Some satsuki azaleas grow three to four feet high and wide; others can be as diminutive as one foot. The latter category includes the gumpos, a type of satsuki that has a very compact habit. Gumpos come in pink, red, white and rose.
Because azaleas are something of a Washington tradition, most residents have several. So here are other mid-size and compact woody shrubs to plant that are becoming more popular because of their ornamental characteristics and the fact that deer don't like them. Deer like most azaleas.
* Crimson pygmy barberry has become well known and is widely stocked by garden centers. It's an excellent shrub to use as a background for a perennial border. This plant provides an interesting branching habit for birds to flit through in the winter, eating the berries. It has red foliage in summer that beautifully complements other greenery and grows only four feet high and wide without pruning.
* Deutzia, an old-fashioned plant, was used 50 years ago in mixed shrub borders in front of taller plants because of its low-growth habit. The species, Deutzia gracilis, grows three to four feet tall and wide with pure white flowers in May, which bloom for two weeks or more. For something a little shorter, deutzia nikko is an outstanding hybrid that's compact, staying two feet high and spreading four feet. Nikko forms a tight mound of foliage that gets covered with white spring flowers.
* Itea or Virginia sweetspire is a native plant. It prefers wet sites in sun or shade but has drought tolerance. Its long-flowering, sweet-smelling blooms in summer and maroon fall foliage hold their ornamental value for many weeks. It grows three to four feet tall.
Growing two to three feet tall and forming a full mound, Little Henry sweetspire has all of the ornate qualities of the species itea in a more compact form. It has virtually no insect or disease pests, gorgeous maroon fall foliage and sweet-scented white spiked flowers. In spite of its diminutive size, its fall color can be seen from afar. Use iteas as accents in several parts of a perennial garden or as edging along a patio or path.
* Nandina also comes in two sizes, medium and small. This deer-resistant, low-maintenance shrub is nicknamed "heavenly bamboo" for its close appearance to the graceful habit of bamboo without any of the invasive tendencies. The species, Nandina domestica, grows only five feet tall and wide. The foliage turns red in winter, and its red berries are excellent to use in cut-flower arrangements. Harbour dwarf nandina is one of several dwarf varieties that grow only 24 to 30 inches tall. It's also disease-free, shade-tolerant, semi-evergreen and turns red in winter.
* Dwarf fothergilla is a dependable, problem-free shrub with fragrant spring flowers and showy yellow-red fall foliage. Growing five feet high and wide, it's an excellent complement to the azaleas usually found in semi-shaded areas of the landscape. This native plant and member of the witchhazel family is deer-resistant too.
* Clethra or summersweet is native from Maine to Florida. This deciduous shrub grows only four to six feet tall and has been given the name summersweet for good reason. The fragrant summer flowers are a treat at a time when few shrubs are in bloom. It likes wet sites, has handsome deep-green leaves, is shade-tolerant and displays russet-red foliage in fall.
* Green velvet boxwood forms a two-to-three-foot rounded shrub at maturity and is low-maintenance and deerproof. The foliage of most small, compact-growing boxwoods colors brown in winter and light green in summer. This one was bred to produce deep-green foliage and hold that color through winter.
* Otto Luyken cherry-laurels mass together dependably, have plush-looking foliage and will soften the foundation of a home year-round. The hybrid Otto Luyken grows only three to four feet tall and wide, which is superior to the species that'll grow 12 feet or more. In spite of the fact that it's a member of the same pest-prone genus of woodies as edible cherry trees, it's exceptionally disease- and deer-resistant and fully evergreen. It's slightly sensitive to wind and exposed sites, but Otto Luyken winters well in this region, because it's hardy to minus five or 10 degrees Fahrenheit. It also offers the benefit of fragrant white spring flowers.
* Leatherleaf mahonia is an evergreen shrub with a pleasing textural quality in its holly-looking leaves. Introduced from China, it grows from four to six feet tall and, planted in rich, well-drained soil, it does well in sun or shade. It has holly-shaped, coarse-textured foliage and makes an excellent disease-resistant specimen for a northern exposure. Drooping, fragrant yellow flowers in early spring yield highly ornamental clusters of grape-colored berries all summer.
Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md. His e-mail address is email@example.com