What are the Different Types of Shrubs?

Jonathan Stevens

Shrubs are often used for landscaping applications. Some are small and dense, while others are tall and thin. Some are leafy green, while others display colorful flowers. For example, a juniper has needle-like leaves that taper to a point. They flourish in sunny locations and don't handle drought conditions well. Lilacs are available in several hundred varieties and a range of colors that include white, red, pink, blue and purple blossoms. They grow upwards to ten feet (about 3 meters). Rhododendrons grow best in partial shade and are available with flowers of different shapes and colors. They don't grow nearly as tall but usually enjoy a long, hardy life cycle. Nevertheless, despite these distinctions, each is classified as belonging to the shrub family, although properly understood as different types of shrubs.

A bloom from a hydrangea, a type of shrub.
A bloom from a hydrangea, a type of shrub.

There are primarily three types of shrubs: broadleaf evergreen, needled evergreen and deciduous varieties. Since these distinctions may also apply to trees, it is helpful to note how shrubs differ. A tree has a primary trunk that branches and is topped with foliage. A shrub has multiple stems protruding from the base, also topped with foliage.

Flowering shrubs like lilacs are often popular in gardens.
Flowering shrubs like lilacs are often popular in gardens.

The broadleaf evergreen. Any kind of leaf that is not a needle is commonly referred to as broadleaf and when combined with the description evergreen refers to a non-needle leaf that does not change color according to seasons or weather. The constant color is not necessarily green. Azalea, boxwood, camellia, gardenia, holly, hopbush, mountain laurel, myrtle and rhododendron are some examples of broadleaf evergreen shrubs.

The needled evergreen. Any leaf that is needle-like, whether narrow or wide and does not change color due to season or weather is classified as a needled evergreen. If it also displays multiple stems branching forth from the base, it is a needled evergreen shrub. Arborvitae, juniper, mugo pine and yew are some examples of needled evergreen shrubs.

The deciduous variety. Any shrub that sheds its leaves due to weather or seasonal changes is classified as deciduous and often includes color changes within the foliage. In the case of trees, the deciduous varieties are easily recognized by their range of bright colors displayed in the autumn seasons before shedding their leaves prior to winter. In the spring, these trees bud and blossom and display new leaves in their original color until the cycle repeats in the following fall. This also applies to shrubs. Any shrub that loses its foliage or changes color due to weather and season is considered a deciduous shrub. Abbotswood, blue mist spirea, hancock coralberry, honeysuckle, hydrangea, kelsey dogwood, lilac, pussywillow, rose-of-sharon, russian sage, snowberry, and sumac are some examples of deciduous shrubs.

Lilac flowers bloom in the spring, are sweet smelling and may attract butterflies.
Lilac flowers bloom in the spring, are sweet smelling and may attract butterflies.

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Discussion Comments


I am pretty much at a loss when it comes to shrubs of any kind. Nursery, to me, means the place that Wendy was kicked out of in Peter Pan. My yard has some grass, and that is about it.

I would really like to explore some landscaping ideas, but I’m afraid to venture out into this unknown world of greenery. I don’t want to start something that is going to be so time consuming that I ultimately let it go.

Then it will look like I live in a jungle (or at least that is my fear). Any suggestions for how a novice can begin working some shrubbery into their naked yard without getting in over their heads?


I love shrubs in general, and many so-called shrubs actually seem to be tree-like to me. Others are little, baby dwarf shrubs. They are great ways to add personality to any yard. I personally enjoy using a variety of the three different shrub families so that at every season of the year I have color among my shrubs, even if it is primarily green during the winter. I love deciduous flowering shrubs, but because they lose their leaves and blooms at times they work really well when paired with evergreens. That way they don’t look so skeletal during their non-blooming seasons.

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