University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

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NATIVE SHRUBS FOR NORTHERN LANDSCAPES
 
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
            
Northern New England is the source of many wonderful native shrubs, many of which are commonly available at nurseries and garden centers. Being native to our region, they often have fewer pests and are better adapted than non-natives—shrubs introduced from elsewhere.  Often, too, they provide even more benefits to birds and native pollinators.
           
Shrubs serve many functions in our landscapes. They provide color in the form of flowers and fruits. They act as "walls" between the "rooms" of our landscapes and are often pruned into hedges for that purpose. Their fruits feed our birds, and their well-branched habits provide nesting sites. Shrubs also can add winter color and texture to perennial gardens. 
           
All these examples of large to medium shrubs are hardy to at least USDA zone 4 (-20 to -30F low in winter), and grow in sun or at least part shade if not full shade for some.  For more examples of native plants including lower ones, as well as many other good shrubs and trees for northern landscapes, see Landscape Plants for Vermont, available from the Vermont Master Gardener program (www.uvm.edu/mastergardener/).
           
Large shrubs are generally over 10 feet high.  With branches to the ground, they provide a nice backdrop to perennial beds, or screening of views.  Take off (“limb up”) lower branches to make small trees of them.  One of my favorites, and one of the first to bloom in the spring, are the serviceberries (Amelanchier).  There are several native species including the downy, apple, shadblow, and Allegheny, which are similar with their white flower clusters in May, oval leaves, small edible fruit, and gray bark. The Shadblow serviceberry tends to send out shoots from the plant (“sucker”), and its flowers are upright compared to other species whose flowers nod.
           
The pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) is related to the less hardy flowering dogwood, and has attractive white flowers in late spring on horizontally layered branches.  The green fruit, which turn purple, are attractive to birds.  Reddish-purple fall leaves are attractive to humans.  Although fast growing it is often short-lived compared other shrubs.
           
The common witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana), while often shorter, can reach 10 feet or more with its open, sparse branching habit.  It has yellow flowers in October when the yellow leaves are falling.   
           
There are several good viburnums (Viburnum) for landscapes, including the native nannyberry (V. lentago) and blackhaw (V. prunifolium).  These two species are moderately susceptible to the viburnum leaf beetle, getting some damage where it is present but not being destroyed.  These are adaptable to many sites, including dry or moist soils.  The creamy white flowers in early summer yield green fruits that turn black.  Fruit of the latter are good in preserves. 
           
Medium shrubs are generally 6 to 10 feet tall, and are good as specimen plants, near foundations, or mixed into beds with perennials.  The red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) spreads by suckers to form a mound habit.  The shiny green leaves turn to red in the fall, with even more attractive leaves from ‘Brilliantissima’.  The white flowers in June produce red fruits in fall.  This shrub tolerates a range of soil types. 
           
There are several shrub dogwoods (Cornus) you might consider, including the silky (amomum), gray (racemosa), and redosier (sericea).  The latter is what you often see in wet areas with bright red stems in late winter.  The silky is good for wet areas as well.  A couple selections of the redosier you might find for their bright winter color is the goldentwig or ‘Flaviramea’ with bright yellow stems,  and ‘Cardinal’ with scarlet red stems.
           
Another native shrub, this one producing nuts for squirrels and chipmunks as well as  humans, is the American filbert or hazelnut (Corylus americana).  This one, too, suckers to form a mound.  Generally you’ll want at least two plants for cross pollination and the most nuts.  You may find selections for improved nuts, including ‘Santiam’ and ‘Jefferson’.
           
There are quite a few selections of winterberries (Ilex verticillata), generally with red fall fruit, but some have red-orange or even golden berries.  In past trials at the University of Vermont, those with best fruit color retention in fall were ‘Jolly Red’, ‘Maryland Beauty’, ‘Winter Red’, and the hybrid ‘Sparkleberry’.  These are deciduous hollies, losing their leaves in the fall, making the berries visible and attractive (until eaten by birds).  As with other hollies, these need at least one male plant close to female plants in order for fruiting on the latter.  Although they’ll grow in dry soils, they’ll grow better in moist soils.
           
If you live in a warmer zone 5 (low to -20F in winter), you may have luck with the mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia).  This native evergreen shrub is found in acidic soils, and has very showy pink, red, or white flower clusters in June.  They like winter wind protection, plus organic and moist soils. Many of the selections you’ll find may not be as hardy as the species.
           
Just as there are large native viburnums, there are medium ones as well, such as the witherod (cassinoides), arrowwood (dentatum), and American cranberrybush (opulus var. americanu or trilobum).  The latter has very attractive shiny red fall fruit, good in jellies and preserves.  There are several selections on may find of the American cranberrybush.  Unfortunately, except for the witherod, the other two can be highly susceptible to the leaf beetle.

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