Sunday, October 5, 2008

Native Fall Color for your garden without encouraging Miscreants

What can a gardener with an awareness of invasive plants who is looking for brilliant fall color do? Just plant some alternatives: native plants that have similar attributes to invasive, non-native plants. Of the many native shrubs that end the year a punch glorious enough to rival Burning Bush/Euonymus, or any sugar maple for that matter, here are three of our favorites. Photographed above in mid-September you can already see the foliage beginning to darken:

Brilliantissima’ Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) is a native shrub that sports brilliant scarlet foliage in the fall, bright red fruit throughout most of the winter (for people and birds who enjoy tart treats), and it welcomes spring with charming clusters of white flowers. Red Chokeberry is hardy (USDA zone 4 and warmer), easy to grow, will tolerate drought once established, and will thrive in most soils. Although it is a slow grower, it can eventually reach 6 to 9 feet high, and half that wide. Even though Red Chokeberry grows upright, its suckers fill in to form a broad mound, or place compact plants in front to hide the sparse lower trunk. Although it will grow well in half-shade, full sun helps it to produce more fruit.

In autumn, Native Red Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) shows off branches dripping with brilliant small red berries that provide a welcome sight to songbirds mid-winter. It produces more berries when a male plant is located near up to five female plants. Although it is deciduous and will lose its foliage, Winterberry is related to the glossy evergreen Holly most of us associate with Christmas. Winterberry branches even hold onto their berries after cutting for beautiful holiday arrangements. In spring it has tiny, inconspicuous white flowers. It is hardy, easy to grow, and does well in most types of soil with few insect or disease problems. In wet areas it will produce suckers and form a dense thicket, while in dry areas it forms a snug mass and grows a bit slower.

Another native to the Eastern United States renowned for its autumn colors is Virginia Sweetspire ‘Little Henry’ (Itea virginica 'Sprich'). This dwarf cultivar of sweetspire measures in at a compact 24" x 36" (useful as a container plant). It is deciduous, but with fiery foliage to grace your fall garden. The foliage can drop as late as December, after which you can admire its crimson red stems. With showy white fragrant flowers (cylindrical racemes up to 4” long) in late spring/early summer it is a nice addition to butterfly gardens and will keep your bumblebees buzzing. In addition to tolerating sunny and shady areas, once established, Little Henry is drought tolerant and deer resistant. (Although I understand that deer will eat anything when they get hungry enough.) Little Henry prefers moist soils with lots of humus and even does well in acidic soil near pine trees. Little Henry is low maintenance and needs little pruning. Should you want to prune, do so after blooming.

Adding any one of these three to your garden this fall will reward your senses many times over next fall.