When we begin designing a commercial landscape here in Michigan, one of the first things that we do is review the municipality’s landscape ordinance. Most landscape ordinances have a requirement for shrubs to be included within the site’s buffer zones (areas along the property line).
Buffer areas are typically harsh environments – along streets and adjacent to parking lots. The sort of shrubs that will grow well in these spaces need to be durable, yet low maintenance. Up until a few years ago, durable was achievable, at the expense of being low maintenance. Shrubs that grew well in tough places could reach heights of 10’ or more! This wouldn’t be a problem, except most business owners would like their customers to be able to see their buildings! (Of course!)
So, as they say, everything in moderation. Buffer shrubs should provide a buffer that screens views of unsightly pavement. And yet, they shouldn’t completely block your views so that you miss the development altogether.
With that in mind, here are 5 shrubs that we think are a home run for most commercial sites:
Happy Face Potentilla (Potentilla fruticosa ‘Lundy’) – With yellow blooms from June through October, this shrub will cause you to smile when you see it. Staying under 3’ tall and wide, Happy Face doesn’t need constant maintenance to keep it in line. Once established, this shrub will also tolerate drought, not needing irrigation during our dry Michigan summers.
Magic Carpet Spirea (Spiraea japonica ‘Walbuma’) – Spirea are your quintessential durable shrubs; the perfect shrub for commercial landscapes. This one is a particular favorite for two main reasons. First, like Happy Face, it stays small (2’ tall, 3’ wide), providing a foreground through which to view the commercial building. Second, this shrub seems to be magical. In addition to its bloom, its new foliage growth appears nearly floral with shades of red and pink, which fade to lime green as it ages.
Boxwood (Buxus sp.) – Boxwood are versatile evergreens that can grow in sun or shade. When we design landscapes in the greater Lansing area, we find that there are many deer that enjoy the salad bar of cultivated landscapes. While no plant is immune, boxwood are certainly less desirable to the snacking deer, which make them very desirable for us!
Fine Wine Weigela (Weigela florida ‘Bramwell’) – While Fine Wine does have a beautiful hot pink flower in the early summer, this plant is a winner mainly for its foliage color. Its deep purple leaves offer interest and depth to a planting design when combined with other shrubs, perennials and grasses.
Pinky Winky Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘DVPPinky’) – While we’ve been highlighting the value of low-growing shrubs, there are also occasions when larger shrubs are appropriate (such as creating privacy around an employee-only lunch patio). In those cases, we often like to design with the many cultivars of Hydrangeas. Pinky Winky Hydrangea grows to be 6-8’ tall and wide. Blooming begins in summer with white flowers that change to pink as they age. This gives the flower an ombré / snow cone effect. The flowers can also provide winter interest if left on the plant after frost.
While these are some of our favorite shrubs for commercial landscapes in Michigan, we always tailor our plant selection to accommodate each site’s unique conditions and each client’s specific goals. Drop us a line to start the conversation about your site.