What Is the Difference between Bushes and Shrubs?

T. L. Childree

There is no scientific difference between bushes and shrubs; both terms are frequently used to describe the same type of vegetation. The difference in the two terms appears to be a matter of personal preference although they both refer to an upright plant that is smaller than a tree. Both are considered to be small woody plants that are less than 10 feet (3 meters) tall with several stems. Many gardeners refer to a bush as a plant that does not need regular pruning to blossom or keep its shape. A shrub is generally regarded as a plant that requires frequent maintenance such as fertilizing and pruning to maintain its appearance.

Bushes are usually not pruned, although rose bushes are an exception.
Bushes are usually not pruned, although rose bushes are an exception.

The difference between bushes and shrubs is often determined by the language of a particular region. Since there is no scientific difference between the two terms, their usage varies. Bushes and shrubs can describe plants that are cultivated or grow wild. In some instances, a plant species will become associated with a particular term such as a rose bush. Horticulturalists generally agree that bushes and shrubs are upright plants that are smaller than trees.

Bushes and shrubs can typically withstand drought.
Bushes and shrubs can typically withstand drought.

In addition to being smaller than trees, bushes and shrubs are further defined as plants that are less than 10 feet (3 meters) tall. Plants less than 1 foot (30 cm) in height are seldom referred to as a bush or shrub. They are also considered to be woody plants with several stems emanating from their base. Bushes and shrubs can consist of a single plant or groups that grow together in a thicket. They may be flowering or non-flowering, evergreen, or deciduous. These plants are usually drought-resistant species that grow well in shaded or sunny areas.

Although there is no definitive agreement, gardeners often classify a bush as a plant that does not require regular maintenance such as pruning, watering, or fertilizing. These plants are usually not cultivated and grow wild in fields and forests. They are often found along hedge rows and fences rather than sidewalks or gardens. The term bush is also describes a plant that is wider and taller than shrubbery growing next to houses and buildings. This classification is not universal since gardeners frequently cultivate and prune rose bushes.

Many gardeners consider shrubs to be plants that are deliberately cultivated in a particular location for aesthetic purposes. Small, upright plants used in landscaping schemes are often referred to as shrubs or shrubbery. Landscaping shrubs are frequently chosen for their smaller height or evergreen foliage. Shrubs planted in a garden area are usually selected for their flowering ability or foliage color. These plants often require frequent maintenance such as pruning ad fertilization to maintain their attractiveness.

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