18 Varieties of White Flowering Shrubs

You’ve looked around your garden and decided that it’s missing something and that something is a shrub with traditional white flowers. The tricky part is that there are dozens of white flowering shrubs to choose from, and you’re unsure where to start your search.

Fortunately, countless gardeners have come before me or you, and they’ve already weeded out (no pun intended) many of the flowering shrubs that fail to thrive in the typical garden. We’re ultimately left with a hearty, tried-and-tested list of plants suited for various climates and growing conditions.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to my favorite white flowering shrubs for any garden style or experience level.

Types of White Flowering Shrubs

Flowering shrubs is one of the easiest ways to significantly impact your landscape. While the flowers are sure to turn heads for a few weeks or even months out of the year, you also need to consider the shrub’s growth habit throughout the rest of the growing season and beyond!

Evergreen

Evergreen shrubs are tough cookies that retain their leaves year-round. If you want a shrub that’s attractive 24/7 and not just when in active flower, then an evergreen variety is a worthwhile option.

Many people think that evergreen shrubs don’t flower, but this is untrue! While hardier, cold-tolerant evergreens are less common, countless blooming shrubs in more temperate climates never really drop their leaves.

Deciduous

Deciduous shrubs drop their leaves during part of the year. In most climates, leaf drop occurs in late fall or early winter. New leaves bud out the following spring.

Shrubs growing in hot, arid climates may drop their leaves during the summer months instead. This is a natural response to the intense stress extreme heat and drought can place on the plants. Dropping leaves help conserve energy and protect the shrub during less-than-ideal growing conditions (i.e., summer’s heat or winter’s cold).

The only downside to growing deciduous shrubs over evergreen varieties is that these shrubs tend to be a bit ugly during a portion of the year. If you live somewhere with heavy winter snowfall, then this probably doesn’t matter since the shrubs will be covered up anyway! But it is something to consider if your garden is in a warmer climate.

Semi-Evergreen

You may also come across some shrub varieties classified as semi-evergreen or (semi-deciduous). The most common definition is a plant that behaves as an evergreen in some climates but not others. This typically manifests as a shrub that keeps its leaves in warmer regions while losing them in the fall in more frigid climates.

Note that semi-evergreen shrubs are still hardy even in areas where they lose their leaves for part of the year. However, cooler temperatures can slow down the overall growth rate of this type of shrub.

white flowering shrubs

18 White Flowering Shrubs for Your Home Landscape

Below, you’ll find 18 excellent shrubs with white flowers for various needs and gardening styles. Each plant is generally healthy and easy to grow, though some will naturally be more suited for certain climates or properties than others.

In addition to each shrub’s overall growth habits and light requirements, I highly recommend noting whether or not your chosen plant is potentially toxic. This is an important consideration when planting shrubs where children or pets may be active.

1. Smooth Hydrangea

Smooth Hydrangea

Hydrangea arborescens

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Location: Full to partial sun
  • Toxic?: No

One of the most recognizable hydrangeas, the smooth hydrangea is commonly bathed in white- or cream-colored blossoms. Annabelle is by far the most popular smooth hydrangea variety available.

These shrubs resemble bigleaf hydrangeas but tend to be more demure in habit and handle the heat a bit better than their cousins. Smooth hydrangeas also have spoiler alert and smoother foliage.

According to the University of New Hampshire, one key advantage of planting smooth hydrangea over other types is that it blooms on new growth. This means your growing flower buds will be far less susceptible to winter damage or improper pruning.

2. Oakleaf Hydrangea

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Hydrangea quercifolia

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Location: Full to partial sun
  • Toxic?: No

The shape of the leaves most easily identifies oakleaf hydrangeas. Outside of the unique foliage, it’s easy to mistake this hydrangea for a small panicle variety (more on that in the next section).

Though oakleaf hydrangeas are known for being relatively hardy, cold hardiness caps out at Zone 5. Oakleaf hydrangeas flower on last year’s wood, so prune only in the summertime shortly after the shrub has finished blooming. Developing flower buds are vulnerable to extreme cold and other forms of damage.

3. Panicle Hydrangea

Panicle Hydrangea

Hydrangea paniculata

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Location: Full to partial sun
  • Toxic?: No

The panicle hydrangea is remarkably hardy and easy to grow. It’s also one of the biggest and most impressive hydrangeas around. Give it space to sprawl (from personal experience: beware of low-hanging tree branches above!), and it’s sure to reward you ten times over.

I’ll say this list item is included via a small loophole. Most panicle hydrangeas start white or creams and then slowly change colour (often to mauve or burgundy) in late summer or fall. 

4. Spirea

Spirea

Spiraea spp.

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Location: Full sun
  • Toxic?: No

There are many kinds of spirea, one of the most popular being the Bridal Wreath spirea. These shrubs feature delicate flowers that usually appear in late spring and last a few weeks. (I know in my garden that the spirea is a hot commodity among the bees and other early pollinators!)

Spirea comes in more colors than just white – pink is another trendy flower color. In addition to Bridal Wreath, Snowmound and Wedding Cake are suitable white cultivars.

There’s also a lot of variance in size between one variety and another. You’ll want to research this shrub based on your available garden space and aesthetic goals to narrow down the best match.

5. Mock Orange

Mock Orange

Philadelphus spp.

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Location: Full sun
  • Toxic?: No

Most gardeners in cooler climates never expect to enjoy citrus-scented perennials in their landscapes. Yet the under-utilized mock orange shrub makes that possible in USDA Zones 4 to 8! 

Humans and pollinators love the orange scent of the white flowers in spring and summer. Any mock orange shrub is sure to become a hotbed of insect activity for several weeks out of the year. If you plant one of these shrubs, use the fresh flowers in cut bouquets and enjoy the aroma indoors.

A common complaint about mock oranges is that they look ‘okay’ outside the blooming period. Don’t let that dissuade you, as I promise the quality of the flowers more than makes up for their short lifespan.

6. Common Lilac

Common Lilac

Syringa vulgaris

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Location: Full sun
  • Toxic?: No

Lilacs are, obviously, most often associated with beautiful shrubs with purple flowers. But white lilacs are also quite common. Look for S. vulgaris var. alba, an offshoot of the classic purple common lilac shrub. (It’s commonly sold as ‘white lilac’.)

A white lilac is an excellent option if you want the potent aroma of a lilac bush in your garden but would prefer something a bit more aesthetically neutral. It’s also a nice way to diversify your landscape if you have several lilacs growing in one area.

7. Japanese Tree Lilac

Japanese Tree Lilac

Syringa reticulata subsp. reticulata

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Location: Full to partial sun
  • Toxic?: No

Most sources would classify this lilac as a small tree (it’s even listed in the common name). However, I think the line between large shrubs and trees is very blurry, and it’s worth mentioning the Japanese tree lilac if you’re searching for white-flowered shrubs.

Even if you think your garden can lilacs, I highly recommend checking this variety out. It has a slightly different shape and habit than common lilacs and blooms noticeably later in the season. This is a great way to extend the fragrance in your spring garden by a few extra weeks!

8. Star Magnolia

Star Magnolia

Magnolia stellata

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Location: Full sun to shade
  • Toxic?: No

As a spring ephemeral bloomer, I’m a big fan of the star magnolia. These plants are available as large shrubs or small trees. Many specimens toe the line between shrub and tree, making them ideal for awkwardly sized spaces that need a bit of height but nothing too big.

Star magnolias get their name from their starburst-like white flowers. It’s common for the flowers to emerge shortly before the leaves. This makes the magnolia plant appear completely covered with white blossoms.

9. Gardenia

Gardenia

Gardenia jasminoides

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Location: Full to partial sun
  • Toxic?: No

Responsible for one of the loveliest aromas in the entire plant world, the gardenia is a tropical shrub with striking white flowers on a background of dark evergreen foliage. These bushes thrive in USDA Zones 7 to 11 and comparable climates.

This shrub is sometimes known as ‘cape jasmine’, which makes sense when considering the two plants’ similarities. But rest assured that gardenias and true jasmines are not related.

Gardenias have a reputation for being a bit tricky to grow. In my experience, problems are usually the result of improper site selection. You must choose the perfect spot for your gardenia to grow if you want to enjoy its blossoms for many years.

10. Japanese Camellia

Japanese Camellia

Camellia japonica

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Location: Partial sun
  • Toxic?: No

Camellias are evergreen shrubs covered in large, rose-shaped flowers throughout late winter and/or spring. They like warm weather, making them ideal for USDA Hardiness Zones 7 to 10. However, recent breeding efforts have extended the camellia range as far north as Zone 6! 

Most white camellias are of the Japanese persuasion. This isn’t surprising, as the Japanese camellia is the most dominant species within the genus. 

Like roses and peonies, camellias have many potential bloom forms ranging from single to formal double. Different cultivars also offer varying bloom periods so that you can stagger the camellia display throughout the growing season.

11. Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel

Kalmia latifolia

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Location: Partial sun
  • Toxic?: Yes

Mountain laurel is a native North American shrub with unique, almost bell-shaped flower clusters that come in white and baby pink shades. The leaves are large and oblong — somewhat reminiscent of a rhododendron — with a thick, glossy texture.

Mountain laurels are widespread across much of the eastern United States and Canada. Locals are generally well aware that the shrub, though beautiful, is potentially fatal if ingested. Avoid planting mountain laurels anywhere. Curious children or pets may ingest part of the plant.

12. Viburnum

Viburnum

Viburnum spp.

  • Type: Deciduous or evergreen
  • Location: Full to partial sun
  • Toxic?: No

Viburnum is an expansive genus of flowering shrubs sometimes confused with hydrangeas. Modern landscapers tend to view viburnums as old-fashioned shrubs, but I’ve noticed they’re starting to regain popularity amongst home gardeners!

The flower clusters of viburnum look a lot like those of hydrangea, only much more delicate. Most varieties have cream-colored blossoms. 

In contrast to hydrangeas, viburnum shrubs produce vibrant clutches of berries when the flowers are pollinated. (Despite the berries’ striking appearance, they are non-toxic to pets and people and can be used to make jam.)

13. Ninebark

Ninebark

Physocarpus spp.

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Location: Full to partial sun
  • Toxic?: No

Ninebark is a hardy little shrub with subtly scalloped leaves in several colors. Perhaps the most famous variety, Diablo, is beloved for its wine-purple leaves that contrast nicely against most other landscape foliage.

Most (but not all) ninebarks have clusters of white flowers reminiscent of spirea or viburnum. Some varieties have red or pink flowers, which are much less common.

14. Elderberry

Elderberry

Sambucus spp.

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Location: Full to partial sun
  • Toxic?: Yes

Elderberries are close relatives of viburnum, belonging to the same overarching family. While these shrubs are most notable for their dark berries (beloved by birds and humans alike), many varieties also have showy white flowers.

If you live in North America, an elderberry shrub is a nice addition to an ornamental or native landscape. Just note that you generally need two shrubs near produce berries and that the raw berries can be toxic.

15. Serviceberry

Serviceberry

Amelanchier spp.

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Location: Partial sun
  • Toxic?: Yes

I’m always looking for ways to lure the local birds to my garden, and planting a serviceberry (shadbush) in my yard is on my to-do list. This shrub has attractive spring flowers followed by vibrant summer berries that songbirds and other critters love to eat up.

There are nine different species of serviceberry. They range from shrubs to small trees, so you have some flexibility in incorporating this hardy shrub into your garden.

Perhaps the only downside to serviceberry is that it spreads via root suckers. If you want to plant the shrub in a tight space or along a property line, this can be a problem. Or you can use it to your advantage to create a naturalized thicket.

16. Virginia Sweetspire

Virginia Sweetspire

Itea virginica

  • Type: Deciduous or semi-evergreen
  • Location: Full to partial sun
  • Toxic?: No

You may have heard of Virginia Sweetspire as a native alternative to the controversial burning bush. In addition, to fall foliage that dramatically changes color, this deciduous shrub produces slender flower clusters in late spring and early summer.

According to Clemson University, Virginia sweetspire likes damp feet and is normally found in moist forests and riparian environments out in the wild. It can be used to fill a spot in your landscape with poor drainage expertly. This shrub will grow in drier soil but may need irrigation in mild drought conditions.

17. Rose

Rose

Rosa spp.

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Location: Full to partial sun
  • Toxic?: No

‘Red is the rose’, but I strongly encourage every garden to explore the entire palette of rose shrubs available! Though white roses are the least, they can make a huge impact in the garden and make their more vibrant counterparts stand out even more.

There are several high-performing, healthy white rose strains worth growing. Iceberg is extremely popular in more mild climates. The classic White Knock Out rose is another hardy variety that can bloom practically from the last to the first frost of the same year.

18. Japanese Andromeda

Japanese Andromeda

Pieris japonica

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Location: Full to partial sun
  • Toxic?: Yes

This lesser-known shrub is a member of the heath family, which also includes recognizable faces like rhododendrons, mountain laurels, and blueberries! Japanese Andromeda features dangling, bell-shaped flowers along narrow branching canes. Another common name for this plant is ‘lily-of-the-valley bush’.

Japanese Andromeda isn’t found in many gardens. It only thrives in a limited range — USDA Zones 5 to 7 — and some gardeners find the aroma unpleasant. The plant is also toxic if ingested, making it a poor choice for homes with pets or young children.

If you fall into the group of gardeners who enjoy the scent of Japanese Andromeda and have a suitable location for it to grow, it’s a unique addition to the home landscape.

FAQs Shrubs With White Flowers

What is the sweet-smelling shrub with white flowers?

There are several wonderfully scented shrubs with white blossoms, but some of the most noteworthy include gardenia, lilac, and jasmine! You can narrow down which plant you’re trying to identify by paying attention to things like leaf shape, flower size, and the climate where the shrub is growing.

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.