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Native Shrubs To Know And Grow
Native Shrubs To Know And Grow
Published by Porterbrook
Default Native Shrubs To Know And Grow


Frank W. Porter
Porterbrook Native Plants

Some of the most beautiful native plants in your garden can be shrubs. Whether a shrub is planted as a single specimen or used in mass to create an accent, their different shape, foliage, and color will always create a distinct silhouette in the landscape. Because of their smaller size, you will be able to enjoy up close their fragrance and blossoms. Many shrubs attract butterflies and birds to your yard. Others serve practical purposes such as a hedge or informal border, privacy by screening areas from view, or effective windbreaks and noise buffers.

Native shrubs can meet the growing conditions of every situation in your landscape. The secret is to select the proper species for the right place. One of the more challenging conditions in any landscape is a wet area. Some gardeners attempt to install permanent drains. Others will backfill the area with topsoil. Seldom does either effort meet with success. Instead of spending a great deal of time and money trying to overcome a natural condition, look at a similar situation in the wild. Wildflowers, grasses, sedges, trees and shrubs abound in these wetland situations. You can create a unique aspect to your wetland area by using native shrubs.

An extensive choice of shrubs is available for these troublesome spots. Spiraea alba (Meadowsweet) grows in wet, open areas, swamp thickets, and along streams. It is an erect shrub that can reach five feet. The flowers are white and end in a downy cluster about three inches long. The blooms last from June through September. Spiraea tomentosa (Steeplebush) enjoys wet meadows and bogs. The flowers are pink or rose-colored in a dense spire about seven inches long. Both species can be planted together to create a pleasant mix of colors and foliage. If you have a gentle or steep slope that remains moist, Hydrangea abrorescens (Wild Hydrangea) offers creamy white flowers in flat-topped end clusters. Clethra alnifolia (Sweet-Pepperbush) and Clethra acuminata (Mountain Sweet-Pepperbush) grow in wet, swampy areas in woodlands. Both have white, five-petalled, fragrant flowers in narrow end clusters.

Xanthorihiza simplicissima (Yellowroot) is sparingly branched and looses its leaves. The small brownish purple flowers grow in drooping clusters and bloom in the spring. The wood of the stems and roots is a bright yellow and is used medicinally and to make a yellow dye. It grows in small colonies, and will control erosion along slopes or sides of streams.

For shaded areas with typically mesic (having a balanced supply of moisture) soils, there are some excellent choices. Physocarpus opulifolius (Ninebark) lives up to its name because the bark peels off in layers. The white or pinkish flowers are in dense umbrella-shaped end clusters. Itea virginica (Virginia Willow) has slender, wand-like branches. The leaves turn a wonderful reddish purple in the fall and persist well into winter. The white flowers grow into narrow end clusters about six inches in length. If space is a consideration, ‘Little Henry’ is a form that reaches only three to four feet in height. Diervilla sessilifolia (Southern Bush-Honeysuckle) is rugged, long blooming, and free from pests and diseases. Its sulfur yellow flowers fade to a red in the fall. Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf Hydrangea) produces oak-like leaves that turn different shades or red and tan in the fall. The flowers range from white to pink and grow in cone-shaped clusters. The branches appear almost rusty and wooly in texture and the bark exfoliates.

All of the native Viburnums are useful and attractive additions to the landscape. Viburnum acerifolium (Mapleleaf Viburnum) grows in moist to dry and at times rocky woods. The flowers are creamy white, blooming in late spring. It is stoloniferous, creating dense clusters in the wild. It makes an excellent hedge or border in the landscape. In the fall, it produces black seeds that are not only attractive but are an excellent food source for wildlife. Viburnum prunifolium (Black Haw) can reach fifteen feet high. The creamy white flowers also bloom in late spring. The bluish-black fruit are sweet and edible. The roots are also used medicinally. Black Haw makes an excellent specimen plant in the landscape.

Aronia arbutifolia (Red Chokeberry) and Aronia melanocarpa (Black Chokeberry) are extremely adaptable, growing in either wet or dry soil. Although they are somewhat shade tolerant, they do best when planted where they will receive at least four to six hours of sun. Red Chokeberry’s flowers are white or tinged with purple, blooming in early spring. The bright red fruits are extremely ornamental. Black Chokeberry also has white flowers, but blooms later in the spring. The fruit are at first purple, but change to black. Both species provide food for wildlife.

Callicarpa americana (American Beautyberry) makes its contribution to the landscape in late summer and fall. Silvery magenta berries cover the shrub. The flowers are bluish to a lavender pink and are funnel-shaped, clustered in the leaf axils. It is an excellent addition to the butterfly garden. Calycanthus floridus (Strawberry Bush) offers an intoxicating fragrance from its maroon (and on occasion greenish yellow) flowers, which bloom in summer. In earlier times, housewives planted this shrub near the kitchen window to enjoy its fragrant strawberry aroma.

For areas that tend to be dry and receive several hours of sunlight, Hypericum prolificum (Shrubby St. John’s Wort) and Hypericum kalmii (Kalm’s St. John’s Wort) are perfect for difficult areas. Shrubby St. John’s Wort is a four to six foot mounded shrub with golden yellow flowers appearing late summer. Kalm’s St. John’s Wort produces larger and more abundant golden yellow flowers. It also is a mounding plant, but somewhat shorter in stature. Ceanothus americanus (New Jersey Tea), a substitute for English tea during the American Revolution, has creamy white flowers that appear in summer when few other plants are in bloom. It tolerates a wide range of growing conditions so long as the soil is well-drained.

Lindera benzoin (Spicebush) is a shrub for all seasons. In early spring it produces pastel yellow flowers before the leaves appear, reminding one of a Forsythia in bloom. During the summer the bright green leaves droop, and exude a fragrance reminiscent of Allspice. In the fall, the shrub is covered with bright red, oval-shaped fruit which are also highly fragrant when crushed.

As is so often the case, native shrubs are under-used in the landscape. Homeowners, all too often, select non-native species many of which have become highly invasive and obnoxious intruders in our natural areas. No non-native species of Euonymous should ever be planted in the landscape. Birds spread the seeds into wooded areas where they germinate and quickly multiply. During a recent trip to the mountains of North Carolina, I noticed entire slopes covered with Euonymous alatus (Burning Bush). Few gardeners realize that we have three native species of Euonymous—atropurpureus, americanus, and obovatus—that brighten the fall days with similar red foliage. Other non-natives that should be removed from the landscape are Berberis thunbergii (Japanese Barberry), Elaeagnus umbellata (Autumn Olive), Elaeagnus angustifolia (Russian Olive), Ligustrum ssp. (Common, Japanese, and Chinese Privet), Spiraea japonica (Japanese spiraea), and Lonicera morrowii, L. tartarica, and L. maackii (Bush Honeysuckles).

This article was first published by the Marietta Register

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