Steele: Replacing lawn with a mixed shrubbery

Capital News gardening columnist Gwen Steele offers alternatives to grass to help make your yard more attractive.

Green foliage of dwarf burning bush (Euonymous alatus ‘Compactus’) turns flame red in the fall.

A well-mulched, mixed planting of different shrubs can create a very attractive, low maintenance alternative to lawn.

It could begin as a small area and gradually be added to as more lawn is removed.

For best results, have an overall design in mind before starting.

Never do scatter-gun plantings of individual shrubs or trees in a lawn. This creates mowing challenges and more edges to trim.

An interesting ‘secret garden’ can be made with meandering pathways that lead through a mixed planting of large shrubs and small trees to a secluded sitting area.

The plant database at provides a useful guide to select plants appropriate for Okanagan landscape conditions and desired features.

First, read the database explanation page for information about the twenty-three search categories.

Begin by selecting plant type and conditions of light, water, and hardiness zone.

Special features can be added to narrow down the search.

Choose shrubs with different bloom times. Most have a two to four week blooming period in spring.

Some varieties of Potentilla fruiticosa and Rugosa rose bloom in spring and fall or continuously.

Caryopteris ‘Dark Knight’ (Bluebeard) is an attractive five by five foot silver-leaved shrub, smothered in vibrant blue flowers in August and September.

The native rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) has silver foliage and sulphur yellow blooms in August and September.

Both attract many different pollinators.

Foliage colour and texture are important for interest throughout the growing season.

Using more than one colour creates added interest when shrubs are not blooming.

Choose from burgundy, golden/chaurtreuse, silver/grey, variegated, many shades of green and evergreen.

Evergreens can be included for year round, unchanging colour. Some examples: dwarf Mugo pines (e.g. ‘Slowmound’, ‘Pumilio’), globe blue spruce, yew and juniper varieties.

The silver foliage of the large Lavender ‘Grosso’ is outstanding.

Also consider the bare branch structure and bark of deciduous shrubs.

Mature ninebarks and beauty bush have interesting peeling bark.

To attract more birds into the garden, select some shrubs from the special feature ‘food for birds’.

There are also categories for shrubs that attract hummingbirds or pollinators.

All shrubs need regular watering until established.

Group shrubs with similar water needs together or use drip irrigation with different emitters to accommodate variation.

Space plants so they can grow to mature size without crowding other plants, or walkways, buildings and fences.

Ensure the mature height won’t block a window or desired view or run into power lines or clothesline.

Planting for mature size will minimize pruning, saving time and reducing yard waste debris disposal.

Empty spaces can be planted with perennials or ornamental grasses that can be transplanted elsewhere as shrubs mature.


My two night ‘Introduction to Xeriscape Gardening’ classes are filling up quickly.

The classes take place Wednesday, Sept. 21 and 28, and Monday Sept. 26 and Oct. 3 from 7 to 9 p.m., at St Michael and All Angels Cathedral Hall in Kelowna. For details and to register go to

Gwen Steele is executive director of the non-profit Okanagan Xeriscape Association.

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