Big, bold and colorful flowering is most often the determining factor in shrub and small tree selection for many gardens here in the Baltimore area. Your local garden center is sure to have a great selection of azaleas, weeping cherries and other flowering plants, but may offer limited selections of natives most of which do not offer explosive flowering displays.
However, once the flowering is over in spring, many of the non-native plants offer little of interest for the remaining three seasons of the year. This is a lost opportunity for design. Many of these big flowering shrubs can also be invasive, are subject to disease and insect problems, or require a great deal of maintenance. This article should help you select native shrubs and small trees for your garden.
In selecting only four from the many native shrubs as being the “best” many great plants have been left out, however, several criteria were employed to determine this short “short list”.
Plants on this list offer characteristics that make the plant interesting and attractive when not in flower.
Disease and insect resistance
Shrubs among this list offer supurb resistance to common insects and disease that plague many other plants.
Adaptability/ easy to grow
These plants are adaptable to different soils and exposures, or are tolerant of difficult growing conditions.
Suitability for use in the smaller landscape and design potential
This list includes shrubs that will fit the scale of most gardens in this area, and offer characteristics that make them interesting candidates for design alternatives.
Magnolia virginiana, Sweetbay Magnolia
This outstanding native magnolia trives in difficult wet areas, as well as normal garden soil. Sweetbay magnolia is easy to grow in full sun or partial shade. The blooms are produced when the plant is in leaf, and are somewhat scattered among the branches, adding to a depth of interest in spring. During the summer the plant is covered in dark green lustrous leaves, the underside of which are whitish. In fall the leaves turn yellow to a nice brown, on the surface, which contrasts nicely with the white undersides.
Quick growing, the multi branched upright shrub will reach a mature size of about 15 feet to 20 feet in height with a similar spread. This is a truly graceful small tree not subject to any serious disease or insect problems.
Fothergilla gardenii, Dwarf Fothergilla
Another trouble free plant worthy of greater use in this area is Fothergilla. The variety gardenii is a dwarf form making it more suitable for the smaller landscape. Very easy to grow in most garden soil, except heavy poorly drained soils, it is very well suited for placing on slopes. The plant blooms before any leaves have been set out in an interesting bottle brush appearance. The fragrant blooms are followed by dark green leaves that densly cover the plant and are very attractive. In fall the leaf colors range from yellow to orange to red, and remain on the plant long enough to be appreciated. Winter interest lies in the stems which are upright spreading, and colored a smooth pleasant brown. Fothergilla gardenii grows to a height of about 4 to 5 feet with a spread of 3 to 4 feet.
Viburnum dentatum, Arrowwood Viburnum
A viburnum suitable for many different uses, Arrowwood Viburnum offers true four season interest. Dark green leaves are set off by white flowers in May and June. This is followed by bluish fruit that persist into early winter. Birds devour the fruit quickly. Fall color is variable from plant to plant, most often a reddish purple. One of the most striking characteristics of this plant is most evident in winter. The stems are almost perfectly straight and of a beautiful brown that stands out in the winter landscape. Not troubled by any serious insect or disease problems, the plant is also very tolerant of soil and exposure conditions. Viburnum dentatum grows to a mature height of about 8 feet with a spread of 6 feet.
Ilex glabra, Inkberry
This evergreen shrub is perfect for foundation plantings, massings, and as part of the shrub border. Densly branched, the glossy leaves are dark green sometimes changing to a lighter green in summer. Mostly problem free, Inkberry is easy to grow in sun or partial shade in average to moist soil. There are several cultivars, with differing mature sizes.
This list is a great place to start a native plant garden. There are many others to explore.