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Need A Tough Shrub? Find Inspiration at the Gas Station

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Gas stations are where plants go to die. Shrubs at gas stations are totally neglected. They are never watered and are surrounded by heat-trapping rock mulch. The air is polluted, and the soil is soaked with gas and salt. Shrubs at gas stations are never pruned—usually they die first.

Any shrub that can survive at a gas station can survive in your landscape. The next time you fill up your car’s gas tank, take a moment to see if any of the plants nearby are surviving. You likely will see one of these rugged shrubs:

The toughest shrub may be Japanese barberry (shown below). These durable plants come in a wide range of colors including purple, yellow and green. Barberry can withstand heat, drought and poor soil. Its stems have sharp spines that make it deer-proof. Some scientists classify barberry as an invasive "weed," but that is not always a bad quality. It's hardy to Zone 4. 

Japanese barberry
Japanese barberry

A rugged shrub with beautiful flowers is potentilla (shown below). Its bright golden flowers adorn the shrub all summer long. Native to our area, it thrives in our harsh climate.

Potentilla
Potentilla

Pink-flowering spireas (shown below) are tough plants. Some spireas have green leaves while others have gold leaves. The most vigorous varieties have dark green leaves. These leaves are packed full of chlorophyll, which produces energy for plants. Keep in mind that gold-leaf spirea and other gold-leaf shrubs don’t have as much chlorophyll and are naturally weaker. Spireas are hardy to Zone 4.

Japanese spirea
Japanese spirea

If you need a hardy shrub with purple leaves, a great choice is ‘Diabolo’ ninebark. It’s tough as nails.

If fruits are important to you, consider aronia, a.k.a. chokeberry (shown below). It is pest-free, grows quickly, bears blueberry-like fruits (unfortunately they taste bitter), and has radiant red fall color.

Aronia
Aronia

Everyone loves roses, but most roses require lots of maintenance. Consider the rugosa rose (shown below). These plants tolerate heat, drought, salt and wind—hey, that makes them perfect for us in North Dakota! Some varieties bloom all summer and have scarlet rose hips in winter. 

Popular selections include Blanc Double de Coubert (white), Therese Bugnet (pink), Lotty’s Love (purple) and Fru Dagmar Hartopp (light pink).

rugosa rose
Rugosa rose

If you need an evergreen, nothing is tougher than junipers (shown). These rugged shrubs are hardy, tolerate drought and will survive in saline soils.

Juniper
Juniper

These “gas station plants” can survive the most brutal conditions your landscape can offer. But don’t treat your landscape like a gas station. Show a bit of love to your plants and they’ll reward you many times over.