Mid-Sized Shrubs for a Striking Layered Border

By Kerry Ann Mendez

An attention-grabbing shrub border should be packed with four seasons of color from flowers and foliage. This can be accomplished by positioning evergreen and deciduous woody plants with taller specimens in the back, framing shorter shrubs. Wider borders (over 6 feet) could encompass three plant layers (tall, medium and short), while narrower beds might only be able to accommodate two layers.

Size Matters

Mid-sized shrubs, ranging from 3-5 feet, play a vital role in both large beds (as a medium layer) or narrower beds (back layer). When creating your plant list, a ratio of one evergreen to two deciduous shrubs is common, although for front home foundations, many designers reverse this ratio to two evergreens to every one deciduous. However, there are no "border police" - create a mixture that is pleasing to you.

Consider Flowering Times

When considering plants, select shrubs that flower at different times, providing nonstop color plus an ongoing food source for pollinators. Also be attentive to a mix of plant forms as well as foliage shape, size, texture and color. Attractive foliage is a vital component to beautiful shrub borders.

Think in Groups

When placing shrubs in your design, be careful not to have a lot of "onesies" or "twosies". It's okay to use a single plant when it's larger in scale (i.e., a weeping threadleaf Japanese maple), but smaller plants should be placed in groups of three or more depending on the size of the border. Another option is to repeat a shrub at various intervals down the length of the bed.

Sample Selections

Below are exceptional 3-5 foot tall shrubs, listed by genus, including some cultivars. This is just a small sample of many great choices available at Estabrook's!

Sun to Part Sun


  • Panicle Hydrangeas ('Bobo', 'Little Quick Fire')
  • Ninebark ('Festivus Gold')
  • Azalea ('Girard's Karen', 'Stewartstonian')


  • Boxwood
  • Small Leaved Rhododendron
  • Picea ('Glauca Globosa', 'Pumila')
  • False Cypress ('Kosteri', 'Mops')
  • Thuja ('Mr Bowling Ball', 'Fire Chief')

Part Shade to Shade


  • Clethra ('Hummingbird')
  • Kerria
  • Mountain Hydrangea ('Tuff Stuff')
  • Bigleaf Hydrangea ('Bloomstruck', 'Summer Crush')
  • Smooth Hydrangea ('Annabelle')


  • Boxwood
  • Large Leaved Rhododendron
  • Yew ('Tauntonii')
  • Euonymus ('Emerald Gaiety', 'Moonshadow')