(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 7, 2008. Your comments are welcome but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
The Potentilla fruticosa is one of my favourite bushes. I have them scattered every 10 feet or so throughout my gardens. The pretty flowers begin in June and continue until first frost. There are not very many flowering bushes, if any, that can even come close to such a long blooming period. They are wonderful placed on the corners of beds, or along a sidewalk. These bushes are low growing and compact in nature, requiring minimal pruning to keep them tidy. They are deer resistant, making them a must have in areas with a heavy deer population.
Here in Ontario, they are a native plant, as they are in most of North America and much of the northern hemisphere, and I have seen them growing in the harshest of conditions and the poorest of soils. They can tolerate drought or flooding and are hardy to zone 2. They are also virtually pest and disease free. I have never had a problem with my potentilla bushes, nothing likes the taste of them, including bugs. Even the rabbits hopping around my yard stay clear of these.
They now come in a variety of colours, red, pink, salmon, and almost every hue in between, as well as the more common white and yellow. With the red, pink,and salmon coloured varieties the flowers do tend to fade in hot afternoon sun so some late day shade is beneficial for those ones. They will grow equally well in full sun or in dappled shade all day.
Pruning requirements are minimal. A touch up, if desired, in the fall to maintain a nice shape. I do not prune mine, I prefer the "wild" look, although even unpruned they still stay tidy. I have had Potentilla for 15 years and the oldest bush never exceeds a height of 3 feet and a spread of the same. Occasionally, in the spring, I have to trim back a few dead branch tips. Sometimes, older bushes need a bit of thinning, they tend to cascade after a few years, which I personally think is a nice effect. New growth develops along the branches, and in mid summer, new shoots emerge from the centre of the bush.
They do not require fertilizer, although mine get their yearly dose of compost.
Propagation of Potentilla fruticosa is very easily done. I take a semi ripe 4 inch cutting in mid summer, like you would from a Lavender or Weigela, and remove all of the leaves except for a few at the tip. Cut off any flowers or buds and stick the cutting in a pot of soil, water, and place in a shady area. They will need shelter from direct sunlight for the first month or so. They also have a fine habit of rooting themselves wherever a branch touches the ground. I have been known to take advantage of this trait by placing a rock or brick on a low lying branch to help the process. The young bushes, once thoroughly rooted, can easily be transplanted.
I cannot speak highly enough about this bush. It is a wonderful addition to any Northern garden. Virtually maintenance free, well behaving, and it blends well with either annuals or perennials. It is deer and rabbit resistant. Can withstand drought or flooding, clay soil or sand. Untouched by bug or fungus. The perfect flowering shrub!!
Many thanks to Weezingreens for her photos.