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Native Shrubs: Now is the Time to Plant for More Flowers, Berries and Color Next Year

And photographing your garden in black and white.

I am reading a new book by legendary plant collector Dan Hinkley. Of course, discovering and collecting plants from other parts of the world to bring back home is the polar opposite of gardening with native plants! The story of how this person came to live in the Pacific northwest and build two world famous gardens is interesting though. Early in the book, Hinkley says, in talking about the need for texture and foliage in a garden, "I am not forging new territory here. Yet, for the freshman gardener, there seems to be no coercion or simple pleading that will force retreat from floral flirtation ....Nurseries, blossom dens, pushing floral addictions and thwarting the quantum leap to foliage, don't make it easy."

A bit over the top but I had to laugh out loud. This is SO true. As a gardener starting out, I planted flowers and then more flowers. It was only over time I came to realize building a garden, whether for aesthetics or ecological value, requires different heights and textures. Hinkley suggests taking a photo of your garden in black and white to help you see whether there is variation in height and texture. I tried it; it really works!

This brings us to fall. Fall is for planting and planting deciduous native shrubs is an excellent way to add layers to your garden for more texture, better design and amplifying ecological value not to mention the possibility for more flowers ):. Here are a few native shrubs definitely worth a try if you don't have them.

Smaller shrubs for sun:

Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii)

This dwarf variety of fothergilla grows up to 3 feet high and four feet wide, perfect for tucking into a border. It is low maintenance and has a short period of spiky white blooms in late spring and gorgeous fall color. The foliage in summer has a slightly blue cast. These plants thrive in moist soils and can take part shade as well. 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.

Coralberry (Symphoricarpos)

I am reluctant to include this shrub because I have little experience with it having planted three very small shrubs last fall. They definitely grew in their part shade location but remain pretty small so I can't say much about their habit and shape. Coralberry shrubs do, though, have these fascinating pink berries. Like many shrubs, the more sun they get, the more berries. I found these at Herring Run Nursery. They grow 3 to 6 feet high and wide and grow and are said to be low maintenance. I plan to move one to a full sun location to see if that makes a difference. I'll put that on the "to report back to you" list. If you have experience with it, please share in the comments.

Summersweet 'hummingbird' (Clethra alnifolia 'Hummingbird')

This is a smaller version of summerwsweet shrub and grows to 4' tall. This shrub has abundant candle like white flowers in summer with noticeable fragrance. I think of it as a native substitute for lilac though it blooms later and the flowers are smaller. The number of flowers though make up for the smaller size. In fall, leaves turn yellow. Summersweet also grows in part shade.

Winterberry nana 'red sprite' (Ilex verticillata nana 'red sprite')

The smaller cultivar of winterberry, winterberry nana 'red sprite' grows two to three feet high and wide - perfect for smaller gardens. One thing to remember about winterberry is that you need a male and a female. The female shrub produces the berries and one male within 50 feet or so is usually adequate to pollinate up to 10 female shrubs. Nurseries typically sell both side by side. These shrubs grow in clay soils, wet areas, drier areas and produce the most fruit in sunnier spots though I have had them produce abundant fruit in dappled shade once they are mature. These will also grow in part shade though the more sun they get, the more berries you get. Winterberry have small white flowers in spring, dark green foliage in summer and berries begin to form around late August and last through mid-winter or until birds eat them.

Smaller shrubs for shade:

Pee wee oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia 'pee wee')

This is a smaller cultivar of the large native oak leaf hydrangea that works wonderfully in a smaller space. Interesting branching in winter, glorious white panicle flowers in early summer and blazing color in fall make this a very interesting shrub. The larger leaves also add texture contrast.

Medium to large shrubs for full sun:

Beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana)

Beautyberry shrubs need sun and space and given both, they are gorgeous come fall. The flowers are tiny and the summer foliage is a lighter green. You can read more from last week's post on beautyberry here if you missed it.

Blueberries have white flowers in spring, berries in early summer and bright red foliage in fall. They feed birds and look good. A mature blueberry is a beautiful shrub. They grow best in more acidic soil and at least medium moisture.

Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)

Red chokeberry is an easy to grow shrub. It grows in a vase shape, blooms with small white flowers in clusters in spring, and in fall, has red berries and red and orange leaves. It grows 6 to 8 feet high and 6 feet wide.

Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)

This is the shrub in regular form and grows to 8 feet or so. It naturally grows in moister areas but tolerates regular and clay soils easily. Once established, you can let it be and be delighted when you see it has come into bloom. Regular summersweet blooms mid-summer, so a bit later than lilac but the scent is equally as amazing. The pink or white candle like flowers are also great for cutting. Summer sweet grows in average soil but also thrives in moist soils. It naturally grows in moister areas but tolerates regular and clay soils easily. Bees are highly attracted it. Once established, you can let it be and be delighted when you see it has come into bloom. Fall color is yellow.

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

This is the naturally occurring size of the smaller shrub described above. It has all of the same attributes and needs but grow up to 12 feet high and wide. Only the most mature of shrubs would reach the maximum height and these are easily pruned to reduce height and width. These also grow in part shade.

Medium to large shrubs for part shade and shade:

Oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

This 5 to 8 foot high and wide hydrangea is fascinating in spring as the leaves unfurl in a sort of a prehistoric fashion.  The shrub then quickly leafs up and blooms with long white panicled flowers in May and June. These eventually fade to pink and brown. Leaves turn into an incredible array of maroons, reds and greens in fall. In winter, the papery bark and architectural form of the oak leaf provide great winter interest.  Once established, very little care is needed other than pruning if it gets too large. To prune, remove the tallest branches at the base of the shrub to maintain its shape.  This shrub takes shade, partial sun and full sun though partial sun seems better.

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)

Spicebush blooms with chartreuse yellow clusters of flowers 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 part sun and likes moist soils but can tolerate average soils.  It reportedly gets more blooms the more sun it gets.


Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), American cranberry bush (Viburnum opulus), Nannyberry viburnum (Viburnum lentago) and Possumhaw viburnum (Viburnum nudum) are all large size shrubs that grow in sun or part shade and are care free.  If you are looking for viburnums on the smaller side, check out Possumhaw viburnum ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Wintherhur’ which top out at 6′. Green leaves emerge in spring, stay fresh all summer and turn red, yellow and green in fall. Viburnums are also vigorous, low maintenance and deer resistant. Nurseries carry tons of non-native viburnums so please make sure to double check the type you are buying or buy from one of these native plant nurseries.  

I hope you are enjoying the season's glorious color and are perhaps inspired to add a shrub or two. Happy gardening in the Chesapeake.


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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