June is the month where the vegetables are flowering and the bees are busy pollinating to set the season’s harvest. June is when the sun is highest in the sky and many of us are participating in BBQ’s and graduation parties. While at these parties take a look at the surrounding landscape. The majority of the shrubs around you are most likely non-native boxwoods, forsythia and lilacs. Although these shrubs are beautiful, they do not support native insects and bird species. Maybe it is time to start adding more native shrubbery to your landscape.
A great native shrub to replace that old boxwood is Illex glabra or inkberry. This shrub has glossy evergreen foliage like that of boxwood and also displays a similar shape. Inkberries bloom in spring and are decorated with small delicate white flowers. After the flowers are pollinated by native insects, a black drupe is produced and persists throughout the winter adding all season appeal to your landscape. The birds also enjoy the black berries which supports them through the cold winter.
Elderberry or Sambucus canadensis is another great native shrub that can benefit you as well as the birds in your yard. This shrub flowers June through July with showy fragrant white flat top umbel flowers. The flowers can be harvested and used in tea to support respiratory health. After the flowers have been pollinated deep purple black berries form and are prolific in August. The berries can be boiled with cinnamon and ginger, and after it is cooled preserved with honey and maybe a dash of whisky. This elderberry syrup will support you all winter long when you start to feel a cold coming on. Don’t forget to leave some berries for the birds as they will rely on the berries to help support them through the winter.
Some other recommendations of native shrubbery are any of the dogwood species such as Cornus racemosa, Grey Dogwood or Cornus sericea, Redtwig Dogwood. Many native birds rely on the berries of dogwoods which contain large quantities of protein they need for their long migratory journeys south. Dogwoods also provide nesting places for birds and even hiding places for smaller understory wildlife. Dogwoods are also a host plant for the Spring Azure butterfly.
The most fragrant of all native shrubs is Clethra alnifolia or Sweet Pepper Bush. This shrub is bound to attract nectar feeding hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Like the dogwoods it also provides nesting sites for birds. The flowers can be pink or white racemes depending on the variety and blooms July through August.
Lastly, Viburnums, Rhododendrons and Mountain Laurels are all great shrubs for shady areas. They provide food for native wildlife and lasting colors in sometimes dark shady spaces. These three shrubs do well in acidic areas and are low maintenance.
We have just scratched the surface on the benefits of planting native shrubs and the many shrubby native species that will thrive in northeastern landscapes. Let’s rethink what we are planting in our yards and go native to support native wildlife and create ecologically sound habitats in your own back or front yard! Next month stay tuned for perennials that attract native pollinators, hummingbirds and butterflies.
Pete and the Natives