Native Shrubs Feed Wildlife, Add Excitement to Garden

I wouldn’t plant rabbitbrush in my yard on a bet.

Yes, I know it’s a Colorado native that attracts wildlife and contributes to biodiversity.  But it’s also uglier than aphids on a rose stem.  And that smell!  There’s a reason rabbitbrush’s botanic name is Chrysothamnus nauseosus.

As far as I’m concerned, rabbitbrush should be relegated to revegetating eroded areas where no one will see or smell it.

Drought-tolerant Pawnee Buttes sand cherry brightens the garden with its white spring flowers and red fall foliage. (Photo courtesy of PlantSelect)

Drought-tolerant Pawnee Buttes sand cherry brightens the garden with its white spring flowers and red fall foliage. (Photo courtesy of PlantSelect)

However, there are beautiful, yet tough native plants that work well in residential landscapes.  Western sand cherry (Prunus besseyi) is one.  Western sand cherry’s cousin, Pawnee Buttes sand cherry (Prunus besseyi ‘Pawnee Buttes’), is even better for those of you who want an 18-inch-high carefree groundcover with multi-season interest. Each April in Denver, small white flowers accent Pawnee Buttes’ lustrous green leaves.  This groundcover’s prolific crop of black cherries then feeds birds in the summer.  When fall rolls around, the plant’s foliage turns bright red.  I’ve planted four Pawnee Buttes in my yard, and am planning to add a fifth.

Other attractive native shrubs that can enhance your landscape while feeding birds include:

Regent serviceberry, a cultivar of Saskatoon serviceberry, displays stunning golden coral foliage each autumn.

Regent serviceberry, a cultivar of Saskatoon serviceberry, displays stunning golden coral foliage each autumn.

  • Saskatoon serviceberry (Amerlanchier alnifolia).  One of my all-time favorites, Saskatoon serviceberry is an airy shrub whose blue berries in June attract birds like crazy.  Those berries taste a lot like regular blueberries and are safe for humans.  In April, serviceberry announces spring with showy white flowers along its stems.  Then the plant leafs out and produces berries.  But fall is my favorite time for this plant because the leaves on my serviceberries (Amerlanchier alnifolia ‘Regent’) turn a remarkable golden coral.  Regent typically grows about six feet tall.
  • Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) features colorful maple-like foliage, flowers, fruit and exfoliating bark.  The plant’s leaves come in a variety of colors, including gold, maroon, wine-red and bronze.  It’s another spring bloomer with spirea-like clusters of white or pink flowers, followed by small clumps of reddish fruit. Ninebark typically grows four to eight feet tall, depending on the variety you select.
  • Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea).  You may already have several of these growing in your yard.  If you don’t, consider adding them.  Although many sources indicate that these shrubs need medium to wet soil conditions, I’ve found that they tolerate a fair amount of dryness once established.  Their distinguishing feature, of course, is their bright red stems in the winter.  But they also produce tiny white flowers in clusters each spring, followed by white drupes in summer.  Depending on variety, dogwoods may grow from two to eight feet tall.

Except for Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, I planted all of these shrubs in my garden even before I knew they were natives simply because they’re so interesting and low-maintenance.

To learn more about Colorado native plants, visit:

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2 Comments

Filed under Garden Maintenance, Landscape Design, Plant Geekiness

2 responses to “Native Shrubs Feed Wildlife, Add Excitement to Garden

  1. I agree with you regarding rabbitbrush, not so much about the smell, but because it gets very large, woody and quite unsightly except for the astonishing fall blooms. But I’ve had good luck with the dwarf rabbitbrush, same great fall bloom but a much tidier shrub at about 24″ x 40″. I also love red yucca which flowers nearly all summer and hummers love ‘em.

    • Hi, Steve. I noticed that dwarf rabbitbrush on the PlantSelect site and was curious about it. I’m glad to hear it’s working out for you. As for the red yucca (Hersperaloe parviflora), I agree that it’s a lovely plant and appreciate your pointing out that it attracts hummingbirds. Red yucca is native to central and west Texas, but will grow in Colorado. I also like agastaches (even though they’re not Colorado natives) for attracting hummmers.

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