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Connecticut Garden Journal: The Search for Native Shrubbery

Sep 24, 2015

It’s not enough to simply plant a native and hope for the best.

Everyone is talking about native shrubs these days as we try to wean ourselves away from invasives, such as burning bush and Japanese barberry, which have been used for years as landscape plants. But it’s not enough to simply plant a native and hope for the best. 

The University of Connecticut has done research to determine which native shrubs perform best as substitutes to some of these common landscape plants.

To put them to the test, these grew native shrubs near paved parking lots at UConn to see how they performed. If you ever tried growing shrubs along the road or near pavement, you know this is a good test.

They found some native species performed as well as burning bushes and other common landscape plants. Some need more research. And others simply failed.

Blueberry, for example, is a commonly recommended landscape alternative to burning bush, but didn’t do well in this trial. It’s probably better to grow blueberries in a more benign setting.

Here are some of the some winners:

Buttonbush grew well in this dry spot in spite of normally liking wet soils. It produces cool golf-ball sized flowers and red fruits.

Buttonbush.
Credit Kingsbrae Garden flickr.com/photos/kingsbraegarden / Creative Commons

Creeping sand cherry is a groundcover version of the common sand cherry and can be used to stabilize slopes.

Sweet bells looks and grows like a blueberry. It has bright red fall foliage and is deer resistant.

Sweet bells.
Credit Kenpei / Creative Commons

Sweet gale has lime green foliage, suckers freely, tolerates shade and deer, and has a sweet fragrance when brushed.

So try some of these alternatives when planting landscape plants this fall.

Next week on the Connecticut Garden Journal, I’ll be talking about ornamental grasses. Until then, I’ll be seeing you in the garden.