Looking for a specimen plant, a focal point? Try a Japanese maple. Choose from shrubby dwarf types to graceful umbrellas to stately specimens 20 feet tall. Leaves can vary from orange, lime-green, yellow, and red-purple in spring, and can change colors throughout summer and again in fall. Some varieties even have colorful winter bark in shades of coral-red and golden orange. While they can be quite slow-growing (especially those dwarf types), they are also long-lived, easily giving you decades of adornment. From full sun to light midday shade, they are easy-care and have minimal needs – adequate water during drought and knick protection from lawn mowers and weed whackers. Try under-planting them with low-lying perennials like Creeping Phlox or shrubs like Creeping Junipers.
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One of our favorite natives because of its multi-season interest. Textured leaves come in shades of gold, reddish-copper, bronze-red and plum-burgundy, all of which develop brighter scarlet tones for fall. The name for Ninebark derives from the tendency for older stems to develop peeling bark – not as dramatic as that of a River Birch, but still a bit decorative for those who appreciate detail.
Flowers (a popular nectar source) are domed ivory clusters in spring, and when pollinated they develop seed pods that turn bright red before aging to a dry brown (several bird species enjoy these). Growth habits on taller-growing varieties can be a bit wild and rangy, but a simple yearly trim will keep them more formal-looking if that’s what you prefer. Our display plant only gets one haircut a year and minimal care and thrives. This is another native I see amongst the rocks at Great Falls always looking good, even in high summer.
Virginia Sweetspire (Itea)
Also named for sweetly fragrant flowers, this shrub blooms in late spring with drooping white spires that draw a lot of pollinators. Fall is really the peak season of interest for Sweetspire, though, as they turn a brilliant medley of burgundy, maroon, scarlet, orange and gold.
Young stems can also be a dark red in winter not unlike a redtwig Dogwood, and therefore stand out nicely against snow or a dark green backdrop. These, too, will sucker if happy, but are similarly not considered thuggish in their tenacity. In fact, that trait makes for great soil stabilization on slopes or in swales where water rushes past in a rainstorm.
Also helpful in rain gardens, Sweetspire only asks for full to part sun and non-swampy soil to grow well. I have seen many between the boulders on trails at Great Falls, happily blooming and turning beautiful colors in fall with what little soil, nutrients and water they get in their little rock pockets.
Summersweet / Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra)
Very aptly named, this shrub will impress you with its sweet scent in the middle of summer when fewer fragrant plants are flowering. Flowers are white or pink spires that are highly attractive to bees, butterflies and other pollinators. They are most abundant on plants grown in full sun, but Summersweet can be found growing wild in many a shady location, so their adaptability should be put to good use if you have more wooded conditions.
Wetter soils are a not a problem, and happy plants in moist spots can sucker to form a colony, though they aren’t overly aggressive. Leaves turn bright yellow in fall and are late to re-appear in spring, so don’t worry if they take longer to wake-up in spring than other shrubs. Dwarf forms fit well under windows and in mixed perennial beds while taller forms are good back-of-the-border plants and accents. I always recommend them for wildlife gardens and rain gardens, and our display plant here has prospered for years with no maintenance.
Bayberry / Waxmyrtle (Myrica or Morella)
Despite having “bay” in the name, you can find these shrubs a bit inland as well, though generally in faster-draining soils. They are more prevalent at the beach, though, where their tolerance for salt spray and growing in nearly pure sand earns them respect for tolerating harsh conditions.
Like legumes, Bayberry can fix atmospheric nitrogen and can survive in impoverished soils (such as sand) with minimal fertilizer. The highly aromatic foliage is unpalatable to deer, and birds enjoy the waxy berries which once were used to make bayberry candles.
Bayberry is either male or female, however, so to get berries on the female plants you need at least one male in the vicinity; unfortunately, nurseries rarely know which one they have (or they have a mix), so it’s a bit of pot-luck as to whether a grouped planting will gift you with any berries. Being a wild species and not a cultivar (save for one type of dwarf Southern Bayberry), height will also be pot-luck because the genes will be a mixed bag. Generally, though, nutrient-rich soils produce taller plants, and they stay fairly stunted or slow-growing at the beach.
Sourwood Tree (Oxydendrum arboreum)
This flowering tree (native to the southeast) is another one of those mid-sized species that isn’t a huge shade tree but isn’t a dainty dogwood-sized understory tree either. Flowers appear on the branch tips in early to mid-summer. The delicate ivory bells resemble a drooping cluster of Lily-of-the-Valley flowers. Leaves are reliably beautiful in the fall, showing colors of plum-red, scarlet, orange and/or gold, though brilliant red is the most common color. Beekeepers love it for the nectar that gives prized honey, but some of our smaller butterflies will visit it as well. While not edible, leaves apparently have a sour taste, which led to its common name. Give them average soil moisture (but good drainage) and acidic conditions in full or partial sun.
American Beech Trees (Fagus grandiflora)
The American Beech is one of our most stately native shade trees. Slow-growing but very long-lived, they are easy to spot with their smooth gray bark. They cast a dense shade when mature that’s great for cooling the house and creating a serene woodland garden. Their roots can be shallow, so avoid planting next to a concrete walk. Fall leaves turn a lovely golden-bronze, and the edible nuts are popular with many birds and woodland mammals.
Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
Mountain Laurel is native to the forests of the eastern United States. Our nursery-grown varieties come with blooms of white, pink, red and combinations of the same. These slow-growing plants need afternoon shade, good drainage and acid soil; they are great companions for rhododendrons and azaleas.
Inkberry (Ilex glabra)
Our most cold-hardy evergreen holly, these spineless shrubs are great foundation plants that also serve as rain garden candidates, hedges for minimal pruning, and in native gardens.
Multi- or single-stemmed small trees, these white-flowering natives bloom in the spring, ripen delicious purple berries in summer (much to songbird’s delight), and get orange and golden fall foliage.
Smooth gray bark gives them a pleasing winter look and they are good candidates for rain gard
On the fence in our ‘big evergreens’ area is a native Crossvine (Bignonia ‘Dragon Lady‘). It’s a beauty! The big red-orange blooms appear in late spring and are a good source of nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies. In additional, it’s deer resistant and excellent for screening.
“Queen of the Vines,” they say, and they’re probably right! Easy to grow, there’s a great range of colors and habits to choose from. Pair one up with a climbing rose, grow a tall one through a small tree or use any of them to cover a mailbox, arbor, trellis or wall. For a vine that can look delicate, they have great constitution and staying power and add a lot of bang for your buck.
With both spring and fall blooming varieties to choose from, camellias can add color to your garden over a long period of time. In bold reds, soft pinks or pure whites, these beautiful flowers will pop out when little else is blooming.
Depending on the variety, the flowers may be rosettes, semi-doubles, anemone shaped or singles, and may range in size from 1 inch to 6 inches across. Aside from the flowers, the foliage is also a nice addition to the garden. The glossy, dark green leaves are evergreen and add to the garden year round. Mature camellia varieties range in size from 3 foot shrubs to 14 foot (or more) small trees.
There’s not many shrubs that can give you summer color like Crape myrtles and Butterfly Bush. There are so many heights and colors of crape myrtle available now that there’s room for one in every garden. Peeling bark, summer flowers and colorful fall leaves make them multi-season winners! Butterfly bush also come in many colors and heights now, and several new introductions also have very low (or no) seed set to prevent unwanted volunteers and increased flower production. All are fragrant and live up to their name as butterfly magnets. Plant both crapemyrtle and butterfly bush in full sun and well-drained soil and they will reward you with color for years to come!
Azaleas produce one of the biggest flowering shows in the spring. In white and shades of pink, red, purple, coral and bi-colors, the flowers brighten shady garden areas and appear in clusters of single, semi-double and double.
Several types of these shrubs grow well here, and all offer summer flowers and attractive foliage. Some do best in sun, others mostly shade. They range in size from 3-foot dwarves to 20-foot vines.
Abelia mosanensis – Fragrant Abelia
A wonderful flowering shrub that should be used more, this uncommon Abelia produces clusters of small white flowers with a fragrance to rival a lilac’s. Blooms appear in mid- to late spring, and the clean green foliage turns brilliant red, maroon and burgundy in fall. This shrub will reach about 6′ tall and wide or more, but responds well to trimming after flowering if you wish to keep it smaller. Give it full sun to light midday shade and good drainage and let it thrill your senses!
Ceanothus Marie Simon – Hybrid New Jersey Tea
This shrub is a hybrid with two native cousins to our local New Jersey Tea, and boasts clusters of soft pink flowers in late spring and early summer. I have seen our small Spring Azure butterfly lay eggs on the flowers, and Hairstreaks and other small butterflies and pollinators use them for nectar.
Plants stay only 2 to 3′ tall and wide and prefer well-drained soil in sun or moderate shade. This hybrid gets good drought tolerance from one parent and interesting glossy, reddish seed capsules from another.
Spiraea Snow Storm – Snow Storm Spirea
Like many spirea, this variety is versatile and gives the garden multi-season interest. Foliage is a soft blue-green all summer, taking on muted shades of plum-purple and burgundy. The colors combine well with all other leaf colors – bright green, reddish-purple and yellow. White flower clusters open in late spring and continue on-and-off into summer.
A light trimming can encourage a faster, fuller re-blooming once the first flowers fade. This spirea will grow to about 4′ tall and wide and thrives in full sun and well-drained soil. All spirea are moderately deer-resistant.
Little Lime & Limelight – Hydrangea
Panicle Hydrangeas: A must for summer to fall color in the garden. These beauties are some of the hardiest hydrangeas around. They bloom in July and August, starting with pale green conical flower clusters that turn white and age to pink.
While Limelight’s flower clusters are 6-12 inches long, Little Lime’s are about a third that size. In the fall the foliage takes over turning from dark green to shades of yellow, burnt-orange and rusty-red. Overall Limelight is the larger and showier at 6 to 8 feet tall and wide while Little Lime is well suited for a smaller area at 3 to 5 feet tall and wide. They both like a sun to part sun area and neither will let you down when it comes to a show.
Twist N Shout – Hydrangea
Why plant Twist-n-Shout? – like other hydrangeas in the “Endless Summer Collection,” they bloom on both old and new growth, so the blooming season is extended – they are lacecap hydrangeas: small bud-like flowers in the center surrounded by large, showy ones, giving them a delicate, lacy effect – they provide multi-season interest with sturdy red stems and deep green leaves that turn burgundy in the fall – at maturity, they only reach 3 to 4 feet tall and wide, making them perfect as a foundation or container plant
Otto Luyken – Cherry Laurel
Move over Japanese holly and boxwood, there’s another evergreen in town! Cherry laurel is an evergreen shrub that most will recognize as a common foundation evergreen.
Tough and adaptable, they will grow in sun or shade, moist or dry areas, and are even fairly unpalatable to deer. You can trim them (or not) and use them as hedges, screening, or simple accents. Otto Luyken is a common variety that tends to grow between 3-5 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide.
If in enough sun (and not heavily trimmed), they will produce sweetly fragrant white flower spikes in mid-spring.
Chamaecyparis – Gold Mops
A descriptive name to be sure, “Gold Mops” is a soft, graceful evergreen that will add that golden splash of color to any spot in a sunny garden or container. Named for its upside-down mop look, it will form a tidy mound of yellow foliage (interior leaves are green) year-round.
Not prone to pest or disease problems, and needing little to no regular pruning, they’re a great accent to frame a doorway, driveway, or brighten that special spot it the yard. Plus, deer usually leave them alone!
Boxwoods are a tried-and-true evergreen, with a taste that deer disdain and tolerance of a wide range of conditions. Two hybrids, Green Velvet and Green Mountain, were hybridized from Korean and English boxwoods to combine great leaf color and hardiness. Unlike some boxwoods, which can blush a caramel-orange in the winter, these stay deep green and are hardy below -10°. Suitable for foundations, hedges, accents and containers, these boxwoods have moderate growth and even shapes with little to no trimming.
Green Velvet will be rounded and reach about 4′ tall and wide in ten years; Green Mountain will be more conical, at 5′ high by 3′ wide. They will take full sun to mostly shade, though are happiest in about half sun-half shade. They will take clay in stride if given enough drainage, but perform better with soil enriched with compost. Any trimming you wish to do is best done in early spring, so the new growth can cover up the cuts.
These Roses truly are a Knockout! Knockout roses in yellow, red, pink, double red and double pink make incredible displays blooming all summer, low maintenance, great disease resistance. It’s no wonder they are so popular.
You can hardly do better than a blueberry for a multi-season, multi-use shrub! Flowers in spring start out with pinkish buds and open to white bells, and then provide you and the birds with crops of beautiful, tasty blue treats in summer. (Or pink! There’s a new pink-fruited blueberry out now, called Pink Lemonade.)
Foliage is seldom bothered by insects or disease, and gives you great burgundy, red, orange and/or yellow fall color. Bare stems in winter can be blushed orange and yellow on young bark. Give blueberries full sun if you want to maximize your harvest; in the wild you can find them in open woods where they receive partial shade, though they don’t fruit as heavily.
Soil should be well-drained and fairly acidic, which you can achieve with adding sulfur to your soil and monitoring the pH with a simple test kit. Aim for around 5.0 or even slightly lower. Blueberries are better equipped to handle wet conditions if in strongly acidic conditions, as this suppresses disease. Holly-Tone makes a great all-purpose fertilizer, and no regular trimming is needed. Both Highbush and Lowbush species of blueberry are native to the mid-Atlantic. If you have deer, you might need to net the plants to prevent browsing, but that will save more berries from the birds for you to enjoy.
Fruit Trees and Berry Bushes
Fig preserves, roasted figs with honey, baked figs stuffed with cheese, fig tart…..fresh figs are a real summer treat and easy to grow. In addition to fruit, the tree also sports big, bold palmate foliage.
Make sure you give your fig tree plenty of room to grow (there are dwarf varieties for smaller spaces), and plant in a sunny, sheltered location with humus rich soil that drains well. There are several varieties available and all are self pollinating.
Sweet or sour, cherries are a mainstay of summer. Whether you eat them fresh, make awesome desserts or can them, cherries are a treat. All of our cherry trees are semi-dwarf – sweet cherries 15-18 ft. tall at maturity, sour cherries 12-15 ft. tall at maturity – so picking buckets of fruit will not be a problem.
Both of our tart cherry varieties, Danube™ and Montmorency, are self-pollinating but our sweet cherry varieties are available in both self-pollinating varieties and ones that require another another sweet cherry variety to set fruit, so please pay attention to the tags.
Nothing beats picking a crisp, sweet apple directly off the tree, especially when you don’t have to walk any further than your own back yard. Look for semi-dwarf varieties that include favorites like “Honeycrisp” and “Golden Delicious” that will top out around 12 to 15 feet tall at maturity – easy for picking, and a dwarf self-pollinating variety called “Newton Pippin” that will reach about 8 to 10 feet tall at maturity making it ideal for small spaces.
Just remember to check the tree tags to see if the variety you choose is self-pollinating or if it requires another apple tree that blooms at the same time to complete the pollination process. Best selection time is March.
This bright, colorful orange fruit can be picked in the fall and eaten fresh or used in cooking, just wait till they are fully ripe (under ripe fruit can be astringent). Among the dwarf varieties, ‘Fuyu Imoto’ and ‘Nikita’s Gift’, that will top out around 10-12’ tall at maturity and are perfect for small areas. All of these trees are self pollinating but for optimum fruit production it still helps to have two varieties.
Bare-root strawberry plants. Look for June-bearing varieties, ever-bearing varieties and day-neutral varieties.
- High in Vitamin C & Manganese
- Packed with Antioxidants
- Excellent Source of Fiber
Delicious and nutritious, the raspberry is an excellent addition to your garden. Low on space? We have a space saving variety called “Raspberry Shortcake” that is also excellent for planters and is thorn-less.
Other fruit bushes/vines: blueberry – blackberry – grape – huckleberry – elderberry – gooseberry – boysenberry
- High in Vitamin C & Antioxidants
- Low Calorie
- Excellent Source of Fiber
Home-grown blackberries are a real treat in the summer. Eat them fresh, throw them in yogurt or bake them into your favorite dessert, however you choose to enjoy them, you can’t beat fresh from the garden picked at the peak of ripeness. These varieties are even thorn-less to make picking a breeze!
Other fruit bushes/vines: raspberry – blueberry – grape – huckleberry – elderberry – gooseberry – boysenberry
Blueberry Plants (Vaccinium)
- Delicious & Nutritious
Blueberries are one of the easiest fruits to grow. In addition to the delicious and healthy berries produced in summer, the spring flowers attract many important pollinators, and the fall leaves add interest to the landscape as they turn red, orange and yellow. Plus, they’re native which makes them very hardy!
Other fruit bushes/vines: raspberry – blackberry – grape – huckleberry – elderberry – gooseberry – boysenberry
Favorite Shrubs for Pollinators, Summer Edition
“Pollinators” can include all sorts of insects. The focus here is butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. While many summer-blooming shrubs will certainly attract their fair share of pollinators, there are a few that stand out as heads-of-the-pack.
Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)
Very fragrant, they can be visited by all three of our choice pollinators. Some are dwarf at about 2½’ tall and others taller at about 6’ tall, so they can be used amongst or behind other plantings to create a mixed bed for maximum impact. Native.
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
Great for rain gardens and troublesome wet spots, these unassuming natives are most popular with butterflies and bumble bees.
St. Johnswort (Hypericum)
Some purely native and some native hybrids, their intense golden-yellow flowers are a beacon for bees and open from July into fall. Try them in tough spots that stay on the drier side and areas troubled by deer.
Bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis)
Though non-native, this compact shrub offers an uncommon hue (lavender-blue) late in the season that is a big draw for honeybees, bumble bees, and small butterflies. Also tolerant of dry soils and disliked by deer, they flower around July or August.
Fall is a great time to plant camellias. Shades of pink and white (sometimes together!) and a couple reds are the colors you can expect, with flower forms ranging from single to double. As for planting, while your trees still have leaves, determine where your shaded spots are (this is where a camellia will be happiest next summer). Then, plant your camellia in the ground so it can start growing new roots. During an extra harsh winter you may need to protect them. Download our information pamphlet on Camellias.