Forsythia and Asian azaleas are the first signs of spring in many of our yards, but you can light up your garden year-round if you plant flowering shrubs native to Western North Carolina! In addition to flowers, many native shrubs provide berries, good fall color, and/or winter interest.
For a native replacement for forsythia, try spicebush (Lindera benzoin). Although its yellow flowers in spring are subtler, spicebush has delicate red berries in summer and good fall color. Flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum) is showier than most Asian azaleas with its bright orange flowers.
As spring progresses, sweet shrub/Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus) will provide unusual red flowers and lovely fragrance. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) works best if you already have it on your site; beautiful flowers and evergreen foliage! Look for three species of native viburnums, which will not only bloom, but provide berries beloved by birds: Arrowwood (V. dentatum), Mapleleaf (V. acerifolium), and Possumhaw (V. nudum). Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) is another spring staple, with delicate white blossoms. This is a good shrub for slopes because of its tendency to spread by suckers!
When your summer annuals are bursting with colorful blooms, there are several native shrubs that provide background greenery with distinctive white blooms. Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and Mountain Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra acuminata) will grow in full sun or shade, if planted in a moist location. Plant ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) in a range of light and moisture conditions; some introductions have colorful foliage, too. New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus), wants at least partial shade and will tolerate moist conditions, but also grows in drier areas. Many of these shrubs may naturally occur in your landscape if you do a little detective work! Rosebay rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) is a common native in our landscapes.
For fall, strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus) is a shrub whose tiny blooms you may not notice, but that has stand-out berries in fall.
Even in winter you’ll see interesting flowers appearing on hazelnut (Corylus americana). And winterberry (Ilex verticillata) will sport attractive red berries if the birds don’t find them first!
Article written by Debbie Green, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.