Selecting Native Shrubs: Unsung Heroes for Wildlife

So, here’s the deal: those fancy plants you see in most home gardens? They’re not doing much for our local bugs and critters. Our native insects have grown up with our native plants, and they need them to eat and live out their life cycles. And guess what? Our songbirds need those insects to survive and feed their little ones.

Native shrubs are like the unsung heroes of our landscapes. They bridge the gap between the low-lying perennials and ground cover, and the towering tree canopy.

These shrubs are super important for both our resident and migratory birds, especially around the edges of fragmented forests and places where larger trees just won’t fit.

Favorites for Hanover Gardens

Let’s talk about some awesome plants that you can add to your garden! These plants are low-maintenance and will bring a pop of color to your outdoor space. Here are some of our favorites.

First up, we have the American Beautyberry. This shrub has a graceful shape and can grow up to 6 feet tall. During the summer months, it blooms with small pink-purple flowers that grow in clusters. In the fall and winter, it produces clusters of magenta-purple berries that stay on the branches even when the leaves fall off. It’s a tough plant that can handle both cold and heat.

Now let’s talk about the Strawberry Bush, also known as Heart’s-a-bustin’. This adaptable shrub requires little maintenance and reaches a height of 6-10 feet. It produces delicate white flowers in the summer and then transforms into colorful seed pods. It thrives in wooded areas and thickets, where it loves the sun and acidic, well-drained soil. Even in the winter, you can spot this plant by its fruiting capsules.

Moving on to the Winterberry, a deciduous shrub that grows up to 12 feet tall. It blooms greenish-white flowers in May and June, followed by bright red berries that last into the fall and winter. It thrives in full sun to partial shade and prefers slightly dry to slightly moist soils. The bright red fruits of this plant stand out during the colder months. Birds and butterflies are drawn to it, making it a great addition to any garden.

Another interesting plant is the Button Bush. This evergreen shrub or small tree can grow to heights of 6 to 12 feet. From June to September, it produces balls of long-lasting white or light-pink flowers that look like pincushions. It also has button-like balls of fruit that remain through the winter. It thrives in full sun to partial shade and can handle wet, sandy, and clay soils. You can find it near shorelines, swamps, and other water areas.

Next, we have Witch Hazel, a multi-stemmed shrub with gnarled branches that grow in a messy, open crown. It can reach heights between 10 and 15 feet. In the fall, it blooms with golden, fragrant flowers after the leaves have fallen. Its foliage turns a dazzling gold color in the fall. It does well in full sun or deep shade and can thrive in various soil types. Its native habitat is wet forests, thickets, or bottomlands.

Next, we have the Red Chokeberry. This shrub grows in a vase shape and reaches heights of 6 to 10 feet. In April, it blooms with clusters of small white or light pink flowers, followed by vibrant red berries that last until December. It does well in averagely moist, well-drained soil and can be planted in sunny or partly shaded areas. It’s great for naturalized areas where it can spread through suckering.

Lastly, let’s talk about Ink Berry, a rounded mound shrub that reaches a height of 5-8 feet. It has glossy, lance-shaped leaves that change from dark green to lighter green in the fall. It blooms greenish-white flowers in May and June, which turn into black berry-like drupes in early autumn. It does best in partial shade or sun and prefers acidic, sandy, wet soils. Birds love the berries, and the honey made from this plant is highly prized.

These plants will add beauty and interest to your garden while requiring minimal effort to maintain. Enjoy the vibrant colors and natural charm they bring to your outdoor space!

How to Select Native Shrubs for your Landscape

When it comes to your shrub choices, variety is key. You want to create a multi-season habitat that’s also easy on the eyes. Take Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) for example – it starts flowering early in spring, adding a pop of color to your garden and giving pollinators some much-needed pollen when they wake up from their winter slumber.

Summer brings a whole bunch of blooms, and let’s not forget about the shade these shrubs provide for birds and mammals trying to beat the heat. When summer draughts take hold, you will be happy to have native shrubs in your landscape because they are far more draught tolerant than many non-natives. They thrive with what Mother Nature brings to Virginia.

Once fall rolls around, shrubs start producing berries and seeds. This is so important for wildlife as they prepare for leaner times in winter. Many of these stick around into winter, like the stunning native Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), which serves as a food source for our resident mammals and birds, and gives migrating species a much-needed energy boost.

Being woody plants, native shrubs also offer overwintering spots for insects, and shelter for birds. Evergreen shrubs are particularly handy, acting as living screens in a hedgerow or offering birds a cozy spot away from harsh winter winds and freezing temperatures.

Most shrubs that are a hit with wildlife produce fruit that songbirds can’t resist. But keep in mind, some species also play host to certain insects. Take the Northern spicebush (Lindera benzoin) – it not only produces fruit that migrating thrushes love, but also supports spicebush swallowtail caterpillars. Plus, it has showy, fragrant flowers in spring and gorgeous fall color, making it a real winner for any landscape.

Other shrubs that make great screens and are loved by wildlife include dogwood (Cornus spp.), highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), viburnum (Viburnum spp.), winterberry (Ilex verticillata), bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), and inkberry (Ilex glabra).

If you want to make your backyard a wildlife hotspot, the best thing you can do is mimic nature. Plant a mix of different species at varying heights because not all critters forage or find shelter at the same level. And don’t forget to choose plants that provide food all year round.

So go ahead, get your hands dirty with some landscaping. Plant in the fall and enjoy the beautiful display and the flurry of birds you’ll attract all year long!