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Vermont Garden Journal: Three Favorite Native Shrubs

Voldy Morton
Dogwood is one of the three native shrubs featured in this week's "Vermont Garden Journal."

Sometimes the best plants are right under our noses. Native shrubs have long been ignored as a landscape plant but that seems to be changing. Native shrubs, by nature, are hardy, better adapted to our climate and provide critical habitat for wildlife. Some have attractive flowers, colorful berries and fall foliage. Here are three of my favorites.

Dogwoods are a huge group of plants, ranging from ground covers to tall trees. The gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) is hardy to zone 4, grows 10 feet tall in full sun or part shade, tolerates poor and wet soils, will slowly spread to form a thicket, and even tolerates air pollution. It has white flowers, that produce white berries in late summer that birds love. It even has colorful fall foliage. Grow gray dogwoods in a hedge or island planting where it has room to spread out.

There are many viburnums on the market, but the nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) is a tough, multi-purpose native. It got its common name because the fruits were once fed to goats. This 12-foot tall, spreading shrub grows in part or full sun in a wide range of soils. It has white flowers and black fruits that will hold on the plant into winter providing great wildlife food.

A deciduous shrub that loves wet feet is the button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). This multi-stemmed bush likes full sun, is hardy to zone 5, tolerates clay soil, and produces round, white flowers in the shape of a ball. They look like alien spacecraft. The flowers turn golden in fall and compliment the attractive fall foliage. 'Sugar Shack' is a new hybrid version that's smaller and more compact.

And now for this week's tip, it's May day, plant a tree. Plant your tree in a location where it will have enough room to grow to maturity. Dig the hole 3 times the diameter of the rootball and as deep. Don't add any amendments to the hole, but use the native soil to backfill.

Next week on the Vermont Garden Journal, I'll be talking about flowering tobacco. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.


Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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