Choosing the Uncommon by Going a ‘Little’ Native

with help from the Staff of Ward’s Nursery & Garden Center

October offers a great opportunity to plant trees and shrubs because soils are warm and fall rains are usually abundant. Then by spring, the plant can break dormancy and be ready to fully “move in” to its new home. The time is right, so your next task is choosing the right plant.

Here at Ward’s, we have seen the popularity of certain trees and shrubs come and go, like so much fashion. For example, Burning Bush and Barberry, which we grew up with, were wildly popular landscape plants because they offered great color accents, were easy to care for (didn’t die) and were long-lasting property improvements.

Unfortunately, they were too successful. They flowered in all conditions. They produced thousands of viable seeds. Birds enjoyed the berries and spread them far and wide. Ultimately, these and other invasive plants have spread through our protected wetlands and hills, preventing native plant species (the hosts to our native birds, fungus, insects, amphibians, reptiles and mammals) from thriving in the landscape.

One way out of the invasive mess is to stop the sale and planting of these troublesome plants. And now, their sale is prohibited in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and State of Connecticut.

But what to plant instead? How about looking at natives?

Even better, the native choice hasn’t become the common choice. The following plants offer landscape interest for their fall color, fruit or flowers and grow successfully in a variety of conditions. Perhaps best of all, they are underused and therefore unique additions to your Berkshire landscape.

Some are native and some are native hybrids, bred with Japanese variations and cultivated for great fall color or superior winter hardiness, for example. We’ve chosen them exactly because they will do well but are not seen everywhere—yet!

Fothergilla gardenii and F. major Mt. Airy (native to southeastern) U.S.

Fothergilla

  • F. major Mt. Airy matures at 6 to 8 feet tall and wide
  • F. gardenii: Dwarf variety stays about 5 to 6 feet tall and wide
  • Small white fragrant bottlebrush-shaped flowers appear before foliage in early spring.
  • Dark blue/green leaves through summer
  • Fall foliage show of bright orange to yellows and reds, a great substitution for the less-than-welcome, terribly invasive Burning Bush
  • Foliage drops to make a symmetric, tight-branched structure for winter interest
  • Prefers acidic, cool, well-drained soil in partial shade to full sun

Viburnum varieties (native to eastern U.S.; also native hybrids with some Japanese influence)

Viburnum

  • Viburnum is suffering from an invasive leaf beetle and its larvae, which can defoliate the shrub and kill it. Most susceptible seems to be V. dentatum, our native Arrowwood.
  • Prefers sun to part shade and moist soils
  • Most have great fall color, fruit attracting wildlife and winter interest with a full dense shrub structure

Such a great landscape plant. Choose one of these varieties less susceptible to leaf beetle:

  • Cassinoides, common name Witherod: Similar to Winterthur but with a bit fuller bloom and fruit that goes through a subtle color change during the season, starting green and ending dark blue to black. A native more resistant to the leaf beetle.
  • Nudum, common name Winterthur: Medium-growing to approximately 6 feet canopy. Has a small white bloom late April into May. Foliage is a bit heartier than others, longer, thick and glossy. Green leaves put on a great fall showing of reds and oranges. Blue berries are a treat for birds and butterflies, but apparently not deer. A native more resistant to the leaf beetle.
  • Plicatum tomentosum Mariesii: 10 to 12 feet tall and wide, white spring flowers along the braches. Has dark green summer foliage turning shades of red in late summer/fall. Can tolerate partial sun and woodland-like settings. Bright red berries normally appear in late summer and hang around into the winter. Hybrid.
  • Plicatum Summer Snow Flake: Medium grower to 3 to 5 feet tall and wide. Consistent summer bloomer June into August. Dense branching, compact shrub. Few berries are set. Green summer foliage turning shades of red in the fall. Hybrid. Not invasive in the Berkshires but may be elsewhere.
  • Prunifolium, common nameBlackhaw: Up to 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide; native from Connecticut to Florida. White flowers form showy flat-topped clusters of 2 to 4 inches across and form pink fruit maturing to black in early fall. Fruit is edible and attractive to birds. A native more resistant to the leaf beetle.

Finally, we suggest this alternative to the common Weeping Willow. Nyssa sylvatica: Black Gum (native to northeastern U.S.)

Nyssa

  • A large deciduous tree
  • 30 to 50 feet tall by 20 to 30 feet wide
  • Horizontal branches sometimes pendulous
  • Oval, 6-inch-long serrated leaves of dark green through summer
  • Turns a fluorescent yellow to orange to red or purple in fall
  • Females produce bluish-black drupes that ripen in late September and attract birds
  • For winter interest, the dark gray-brown bark forms irregular ridges, block-like
  • Grows best in moist, well-drained, acidic deep soils
  • Prefers full sun so makes a great street specimen or lawn tree

Happy planting!

Sources:

  • Images of Fothergilla and Viburnum courtesy of Jodi Cahillane, Ward’s Nursery & Garden Center, WardsNursery.com
  • Image of Nyssa sylvatica from Oregon Dept. of Forestry via the Oregon Salem News, http://oregon.salem-news.com/wp-content/ uploads/2011/10/fall-colors.jpg
  • Specifics on plant maturity size can vary from location to location. Plant specifics were collected or confirmed through the University of Connecticut online plant database, www.hort.uconn.edu/plants. Copyright by Mark Brand, 1998–2001.

DAR PEST ALERT

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) reminds residents to remain vigilant against invasive forest pests that can spell danger for the Commonwealth’s trees. Transporting firewood can spread invasive species from one area to another.

The Asian Longhorned Beetle was discovered in Worcester, Massachusetts, four years ago. While the battle to contain this invasive pest continues, another threat to trees, the Emerald Ash Borer, has been discovered in neighboring New York and Connecticut.

Longhorned beetles can destroy hardwood trees including maple, birch and willow. The beetles tunnel deep into a tree’s branches and trunks, disrupting sap flow, weakening and eventually killing the tree. Once these beetles attack a tree, the only remedy is to cut the tree down and chip it into small pieces.

To spot the Asian Longhorned Beetle, look for round, smooth-edged, dime-sized holes left by adult beetles exiting a tree, sawdust-like material on the ground around the trunk or on tree limbs and oozing sap. If an exit hole can be easily reached, try fitting the eraser end of a pencil into the hole. If it goes in straight at least one inch deep, contact the Asian Longhorned Beetle hotline (866-702-9938) or visit www.mass.gov/agr/alb. The beetles leave exit holes spread out across a tree. A series of holes together in a line is often caused by woodpeckers or sapsuckers. Adult beetles are .75 to 1.5 inches long, shiny black with irregular white spots and with antennae one to two times their body length.

DAR has started outreach activities, including a Forest Pest Outreach and Survey Project mailing to all the state’s public libraries. In each packet is a copy of the Asian Longhorned Beetle documentary Lurking in the Trees, a pack of Asian Longhorned Beetle identification cards and a list of free outreach materials to encourage libraries to set up forest pest educational displays. Emerald Ash Borer attacks only ash trees, but can kill a tree within just a few years, because it bores directly under the bark, where the tree’s conductive system is. While ash represents only a small portion of this state’s forests, there is much forested land in the western part of the state where ash is common, and it can often be found throughout the state planted as a street tree or in parks.

The Emerald Ash Borer is a tiny, emerald-green metallic beetle, so small that seven of them could fit on the head of a penny. Look for tiny, D-shaped exit holes in the bark of ash trees, die-back in the upper third of the tree canopy and sprouting of branches just below this dead area.

To report suspicious tree damage or insect sightings, or to read more about these pests, visit www.massnrc.org/pests. You can also call the toll-free Asian Longhorned Beetle hotline at 866- 702-9938 or the Emerald Ash Borer hotline at 866-322-4512.

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