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Native Plants: Top Three Sparkling Shrubs for Spring

These three terrific deciduous shrubs will spice up your spring garden with spiffy blooms and cheer.  Spring flowers and fall color make each of these an excellent addition.

Native Plants for Maryland, Washington DC and Virginia: Spicebush leafing out just after blooming
Spicebush leafing out just after blooming

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is the largest of the three and features chartreuse yellow clusters on bare branches in early spring. If you have ever happened upon a mass of these in the dappled shade of woods, it can be magical.  The blooms are followed by light green leaves and yellow fall color. In the wild it grows to 12 feet high and wide but stays smaller in a garden setting, typically growing 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. It will do well in shade and sun and likes moist soils but can tolerate average soils.  It reportedly gets more blooms the more sun it gets.

Spicebush is the host plant for the larva of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly. This photo of the caterpillar by Bud Hensley of ‘Gardens with Wings‘ shows its incredible coloring.  I have yet to find one but am always on the lookout. If you want to learn which butterflies you can find in your zip code, check out Gardens with Wings’ zip code locator. It’s fabulous.

Dwarf Fothergilla blooming in spring
Dwarf Fothergilla blooming in spring

Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) has spiky blooms that look like little white stars in the shade.  Green leaves in summer turn to interesting tones of orange and red in fall.  These plants thrive in moist soils and can take shade or sun. In sunny locations, they must have moist soil. If you plant this shrub in average rather than moist soil, it is essential to keep it moist until it is well established.

There are two common in the Chesapeake watershed, dwarf fothergilla and fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy,’ which grows a foot higher and wider.  These grow to 4-5 feet high and wide so fit nicely into a shrub border, perennial bed or woodland garden.

Native Plants for Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC Chesapeake Area: Red chokeberry in bloom
Red chokeberry in bloom

The third, red chokeberry blossoms in spring with delicate white flowers which turn to red berries.  The tidy shrub grows 3 to 6 feet tall and fits in well in a flower border or shade garden bed.

In fall, the small leaves turn to reds and oranges. This shrub can grow well in dry or moist soils.

These shrubs are easily found and add something a bit off the beaten path. They are easy to grow, tolerate shade and sun and work well in natural or more formal styles of gardens.  Each could easily be layered into an existing perennial bed, in a woodland garden or any partially shady setting. All three add phenomenal fall color.

Spicebush and red chokeberry are currently available from Direct Native Plants by mail. Spicebush and dwarf fothergilla are currently available from Izel Plants by mail. Wishing you peaceful gardening.


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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