fbpx skip to Main Content

Miri’s 12 Favorite Shrubs (11 are Natives!)

Have enough Azaleas? Roses? Bored with yews? I always yearn for the different when it comes to my garden, and these shrubs are some of my favorites.

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)

I love this shrub! It’s native (they pop up from between the rocks at Great Falls), attractive to pollinators (wow! lots of Red Admiral butterflies on them this year both at home and at the nursery) and has multi-season interest. Leaves are either mahogany or gold and flowers are white. Older wood has peeling bark (probably why its named nine-bark) and the seed pods are bright red before they mature to dry brown. I have had one in my yard for ten years now with no problems – and plenty of “benign neglect” the whole time. My deer leave it alone, though I have heard of some snacking on it.

Sweetspire (Itea virginica)

Sweetspire (Itea virginica)

Another native, this is one of my top ten shrubs for fall color. White spring flowers, dark red winter stems, and fall colors ranging through burgundy, red, orange and yellow. They tolerate wet areas, shade and deer, and stay relatively short. And while not evergreen, I do often see plants arrive on the nursery in early spring with several burgundy leaves from last fall still hanging on. Neat!

Summersweet (Clethra anifolia)

Summersweet (Clethra anifolia))

For in-your-face summer fragrance, you can’t beat this. Deer-resistant, wet-soil-tolerant, butterfly-drawing goodness. They’re native too, and in the wild I see them in sunny wood’s-edge ditches and under the canopy itself. Flowers are white (sometimes pink) and can start in late June and end in early September.



Part of the large Azalea/Andromeda/Blueberry/Heath family, these low-growers are great evergreens for those pesky deer-infused yards and shady spots. Two cream-splashed plants (the variety ‘Girard’s Rainbow’) that I have in my back yard are content under tall shade trees, not bothered deer or neglect for going on ten years now.

‘Blue Chip’ Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)
‘Adonis Blue’ Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)

Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)

Okay, we ecology-minded gardeners know to keep an eye on this one; they can escape via seed into wild areas. However, there are several new series that are both compact growers (the better to reach the seed heads for trimming) and/or don’t even set seed. I happen to LOVE the fragrance, and I’m one of those people who can’t stand the overly-sweet scents of Wisteria and Gardenia. Butterfly bush fragrance reminds me of something like a floral vanilla, if that makes any sense. In either case, it’s one of the few shrubs that blooms from June to October; it also takes hot sun well and rebuffs the deer. Plus, it certainly lives up to its name as a butterfly magnet. Blue-violet, purple, pink, magenta, white or yellow flowers let you match it up to just about anything.

Uncommon Natives

This is a catch-all group, but I just can’t skip over these neat natives that can be hard to find. We have all of these now, but once they’re gone, they’re gone until next spring.

Sweetfern (Comptonia peregina)

Sweetfern (Comptonia peregina) is a toughie that looks like a coarse fern and has nice fall color.

Dusty (Xenobia pulverulenta)

Dusty Zenobia (Zenobia pulverulenta) as bluish leaves and nice fall colors.

Yellowroot (L) and Pipevine (R)

Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissimi) has chains of tiny maroon stars when they flower.

Pipevine (Aristolochia tomentosa) has velvety heart-shaped leaves that feed pipevine swallowtail butterflies and clothe a fence, trellis or arbor.

New Jersey Tea (Ceanthus americanus)

New Jersey Tea (Ceanthus americanus) and its new hyrbid with the western native California Lilac (Look ma, blue!) that also attracts butterflies.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) has white starburst flowers in summer that are very popular with butterflies.

Deciduous Azaleas
More Deciduous Azaleas

Finally, there are several deciduous azaleas that I love.  They have fragrant flowers in white, pink or yellow and fantastic fall color.

by Behnkes Woodies Buyer Miri Talabac

Sweetfern photo credit.  All other photos by Miri Talabac.

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Great list. Looking for plants of interest for a courtyard type garden. Some of these fit the bill. Thanks.

  2. What a great list!
    Two questions: Any tips for growing Ceanothus? Siting, soil conditions, etc?

    What do you think of the Bayberries, specifically Northern vs Southern in our area? What are the differences that you might have seen re: heat tolerance, deciduous-ness, etc. I can get a lot from books but if you have experience with these in our area, that is sooo much more useful!

    By the way I also like fragrant Sumac for its leaf texture and Fall color.

  3. I wish I could say I’ve grown Ceanothus myself, but I haven’t. I know they can be pretty adaptable (at least our east-coast native), and although there are occasional duds in the new plant introduction realm, many are trialed in different climates for years before coming to market, so I do place some trust in that. I am contemplating the Marie Bleu variety (the native x California Lilac cross) for my own yard, though…so if the deer leave it alone, I’ll let you know!

    Northern and Southern Bayberries overlap their native range right about here, so I don’t know if the wild ones I’ve encountered once in awhile are northern, southern, or possibly even hybrids. I do know that when we get Northern bayberries from nurseries in March or so, they have their leaves from last year, sometimes even with an attractive dark purple/bronze hue to them. Southern bayberries usually arrive to us nearly leafless, at least from sources not too far south. I wish I had more practical experience, especially in seeing plants in the wild at different times of the year, but sadly I don’t always get out that much 🙂

    Fragrant Sumac is indeed a nice native. There are so many other “favorites” I have, but I had to be somewhat practical and choose ones we could have available somewhat easily. I did go off-road a bit when I hit on Zenobia, Yellowroot, etc, since we have so few and they’re very hard to come by, but sometimes I just can’t contain myself!

  4. Thank you so much, Miri, for your thoughtful reply!

    I guess my understanding of the bayberries is like this: the northerns can be semi-deciduous here which means they can look kind of tired and bedraggled in the winter, but the southerns are reliably deciduous here which means you get an all new flush of growth in the spring, which can be so beautiful on the bayberries. I’m just wondering how the nothern bayberry I bought from Benkhe’s is going to do at the upper limits of heat tolerance as we ease towards Zone 8 :). Next time I do my research before buying the plant!

    Thanks again!

  5. Miri,

    I need some advice. I would like to plant a hedge between my house and my neighbors for privacy.
    The hedge line would run north-south. Since it is between midway between two houses that are 20 feet apart, it maybe gets 4-6 hours of sun–enough for weigelias to grow and bloom. It is fairly bright, but not a lot of direct sun.

    I am thinking of an evergreen hedge.
    1. snow resistant: I have tried thuja emerald before in another spot–was totally decimated by a bad snow fall
    2. height: about 8 to 15 feet would be lovely. I have grown leyland cypress before–great tree but grows much too tall
    3. fastigiate: should be fairly columnar since it is a narrow space.

    Ideally, would like a choice I could get at Behnkes for a reasonable price–would probably need about 7.

    Would appreciate your advice.


    Jim Blatt

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back To Top