University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
NATIVE SHRUBS FOR NORTHERN LANDSCAPES
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.