Posts Tagged American Beautyberry

Native Shrubs for your Piedmont Landscape

Pinxterbloom Azalea

Pinxterbloom Azalea

With a little planning and minimal effort, one of the fastest ways to enhance your home landscape is through the addition of shrubs. Most folks in the southeastern Piedmont are in shrub ruts, thanks to the overuse of the same few bushes by landscapers of new subdivisions and commercial buildings. A few of those overused shrubs — like Wax Myrtle — are native plants, and so provide food and shelter for wildlife without the invasive tendencies that many non-natives exhibit. But boxwoods, grape hollies (Mahonias), and evergreen azaleas are not native. And the invasive tendencies of Mahonias in our native wetlands is an increasing concern to ecologists.

Golden autumn leaves of spicebush

Golden autumn leaves of spicebush

Today I encourage you to think beyond standardized Piedmont shrubbery. It’s time to consider adding some of our many gorgeous native shrubs to your home landscape. There’s a native shrub for any growing conditions you may have. Some can attain the size of small trees, such as a mature Bladdernut. But others remain just a few feet tall without the need for pruning, including some deciduous azalea and blueberry species.

Ilex verticillata berries ornament a still-green shrub.

Ilex verticillata berries ornament a still-green shrub.

The advice I offered in my previous post about tree planting applies equally to shrubs. Understand the site where you want to add your shrubs. Is it at the top of a sunny hill? Shaded by larger trees or buildings? In a low spot where rainwater collects? Clay soil? Sandy loam?

When you know the answers to those questions, if the area in question is not already a mulched bed, take the time to create a bed. Break up the soil, work in compost or other organic material to create a moist, loamy planting site. When you add the shrubs, be sure to gently stretch out any roots that might be winding around the interior of the pot. Be sure the level of the dirt in your bed matches where the dirt in the pot touched the base of the stem.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Aurora' newly planted, watered, and mulched.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Aurora’ newly planted, watered, and mulched.


Water in your new addition, then mulch the bed with an inch or two of organic mulch — leaves, wood chips, bark — any of those will do nicely. As with new trees, your new shrubs will need a bit of pampering for their first year of growth. If your area goes into drought, water your newbies. Don’t worry about fertilizer. Native shrubs in a well-prepared planting site don’t need it and don’t really want it.

If you’ve read much of my blog, you’ve read about a number of native shrub options worthy of any Piedmont landscape. Here are a few for your consideration.

For Colorful Drama: Deciduous Azaleas

A spring-blooming hybrid deciduous azalea

A spring-blooming hybrid deciduous azalea

The southeastern US is home to spectacular native deciduous azaleas, and I’ve described all the ones I grow in this blog. If you search on deciduous azalea, you’ll find the relevant entries. The one here is probably mostly Rhododendron austrinum, but it was listed as a hybrid in the catalog. Talk about making an impact in the spring landscape! Not only are its numerous flowers impossible to miss, their fragrance is equally impressive, and utterly heavenly. The spring-blooming deciduous azaleas mostly do so before their leaves emerge, thereby increasing their visual impact. The summer bloomers, like Plumleaf Azalea, bloom after leaves appear, but the visual impact still stops visitors in their tracks.

Plumleaf azalea

Plumleaf azalea

Not all deciduous azaleas are fragrant, colors range from pure white to pale yellow to deep gold to rich pinks, oranges, and deep crimsons. Sizes and site requirements vary too. Truly, there is a native azalea ideally suited for almost any growing condition.

Because they drop their leaves in fall (after a spectacular fall leaf color display), deer mostly ignore these shrubs in the landscape. Every once in a while, one will bite off a flower bud in winter or grab a mouthful of summer leaves as it walks past, but deer don’t seem to want to devour this shrub, as they will with Virginia Sweetspire, for example. The deciduous azalea native to my area is Pinxterbloom Azalea (see top photo). I have a ten-foot-tall-and-wide specimen growing on the slope to my floodplain that has always been completely unprotected. The deer eat nearby plants, but ignore the giant Pinxterbloom Azalea.

In my yard, even small, newly planted deciduous azaleas usually begin blooming within the first three years, most sooner than that. Try them; you will not be disappointed.

For Four-Season Interest: Hydrangeas

Oak Leaf Hydrangea "Pewee"

Oakleaf Hydrangea “Pee Wee”

If you’ve got dry shade, Oakleaf Hydrangea is for you. Yes, you’ll need to water it for the first year during dry spells until it’s settled in, but that’s about it. Late spring clusters of white flowers eventually dry on the shrub, making lovely additions to dried flower arrangements. Leaves are bright green in summer and turn scarlet in autumn, remaining on the stems well into late fall. Winter bark is a deep rich brown that contrasts beautifully with snow.  In neighborhoods plagued by deer, the leaves of these shrubs will be eaten. In my yard, I find that if I spray the leaves with one of the repellant mixtures you can buy at any landscape supply store, the deer don’t touch them. In my yard, if I spray in early spring when the leaves are just emerging and again in autumn, I deter most of the nibbling. These are the times when the deer are hungriest in my area. The spray I apply smells horrible (garlic and pepper, I think), but when it dries, I can’t smell it — but the deer still can.

For Lingering Berries: Deciduous Hollies

Ilex decidua after leaf fall

Ilex decidua after leaf fall

That photo was taken in late winter. The bright red berries of our native deciduous hollies are the food of last resort with my local birds. Eventually, usually at the tail end of a cold winter, a flock of Cedar Waxwings will descend on these shrubs that I’ve added to my floodplain and strip them clean. I love these shrubs because the persistent crimson berries really pop in a winter landscape, especially because the branches drop their leaves well before that season. Ilex decidua and I. verticillata have been favorites of horticulturalists for a while. Many spectacular cultivars are available reaching various sizes. They’re native to floodplains, but happily tolerate higher ground in a well-prepared bed.

Note that all hollies are dioecious, meaning male and female flowers develop on separate plants. Females produce the lovely berries, as long as a male of the same species is close by. I usually group two or three females where I want them to be seen, and then tuck in a male plant nearby but more in the background — close enough to provide cross pollination, but far enough away to prevent its lack of berries from detracting from the visual impact of these shrubs in the winter landscape.

The List of Options is Long and Varied

This post is growing lengthy, so I’m going to close with a few more suggestions and links to where I’ve described these shrubs before.

October fast approaches. Now is the optimal time to plant native trees and shrubs. Almost every local nursery has a sale this time of year, and so do most public gardens, including the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, NC. Members-only night is this Friday. If you live in this area, I hope I’ll see you there!

Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet'

Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’

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Welcome, Autumn!


Summer left as sweetly as she arrived this year, bringing needed rain overnight. We woke to sunshine, deep blue, cloudless skies, and a steady breeze bringing in cool, dry, autumnal air. If only every summer could be as kind as this one was to us. Oh, she wasn’t perfect. Her excessive June rains put fungal diseases into overdrive. My tomatoes were blighted beyond redemption by late July.

But the peppers remain productive. My sweet Italian Bull’s Horn variety, Carmen, is overwhelming us with scarlet fruits.

Carmens remain productive.

Carmens remain productive.

And the one purple cayenne plant I added (free seed — who can resist?) is still producing zillions of fruits. They start out deep purple, then pale to lilac, then suddenly go deep, hot scarlet.

First, the cayennes are purple.

First, the cayennes are purple.

Then, they go hot!

Then, they go hot!

The vegetable garden is mostly flowers now. The nasturtiums went bonkers, thanks to Summer’s rains. They now own two full rows where the beans and tomatoes once grew.

Never have the nasturtiums displayed such prolonged enthusiasm.

Never have the nasturtiums displayed such prolonged enthusiasm.

And they’ll be popping up everywhere next year without any help from me. Their fat, curly seed pods are verging on ubiquitous.

Clearly, the nasturtiums have plans for next year.

Clearly, the nasturtiums have plans for next year.

Reproductive efforts were evident everywhere in my yard today, as I took my Farewell-to-Summer stroll around the yard this morning. Some plants are just now showing off ripe fruits.

Cornus florida berries won't last long; my pileated woodpeckers adore them.

Cornus florida berries won’t last long; my pileated woodpeckers adore them.

Beauty berry always lives up to her name about now.

Beautyberry always lives up to her name about now.

Viburnum prunifolium fruits go pink, then deep purple, but you don't see many purples, thanks to hungry birds.

Viburnum nudum fruits go pink, then deep purple, but you don’t see many purples, thanks to hungry birds.

Hearts-a-bursting is exploding with strawberry-like fruits.

Hearts-a-burstin’ is exploding with strawberry-like fruits.

Some plants only produced a few fruits this year. I think the rains actually inhibited pollination in a few instances. Case in point: my native spicebushes (Lindera benzoin). They produced few berries, and as soon as those ripened, they were devoured. I found one lone exception today, hiding deep inside the center of a plant whose leaves are just beginning to turn their characteristic autumn gold.

One lonely spicebush berry hidden deep within the shrub.

One lonely spicebush berry hidden deep within the shrub.

Most of my holly species are heavy with unripe berries, but one is already showing off. A deciduous species, Ilex verticillata, is loaded with crimson fruits. In another month, its leaves will drop, but the berries will likely linger well into late fall, even January some years. The fruits are usually a meal-of-last-resort for the feathered inhabitants of my yard.

Ilex verticillata berries ornament a still-green shrub.

Ilex verticillata berries ornament a still-green shrub.

Fruits of my deciduous Asian dogwood (Cornus kousa) are just turning red, looking quite like Christmas ornaments.

Cornus kousa fruits.

Cornus kousa fruits.

The wet summer was a boon to the legions of lichens that adorn the trees in my yard. Lichens are not only beautiful and essential to the transformation of dead plant material into soil. I’m told they also signal good air quality; lichens won’t grow in smog-filled skies.

An array of lichens adorning a fallen dead tree branch.

An array of lichens adorning a fallen dead tree branch.

Even if my calendar didn’t tell me that today was the Autumnal Equinox, I would have known it was imminent. My Seven-Son Flower Tree never fails to signal Summer’s departure as it transforms its clusters of sweet, white flowers into clusters of purple-red sepals that consistently fool hummingbirds into thinking nectar hides within their embrace.

Purple-red sepals signal Autumn's arrival.

Purple-red sepals signal Autumn’s arrival, even as a few white flower clusters persist.

Rain-softened ground today made weed-pulling almost enjoyable; cool breezes prevented early autumn sunshine from overheating me as I tackled yet another area of my yard overwhelmed by the invaders that Summer’s rains invited willy nilly everywhere in my yard.

Other inhabitants were not entirely happy with my Autumn clean-up activities. A large earth-colored American toad hopped frantically between my legs when I removed its weedy camouflage. Numerous ant colonies bustled about carrying pearl-colored eggs to safety when I disturbed their weed-covered homes. And an Asian Praying Mantis female glowered at me with unblinking emerald eyes from her perch atop a pink-flowering abelia.

Her work is nearly done, though. I spotted freshly laid mantis egg masses firmly attached to the branches of a nearby shrub. Perhaps she was cranky from all that egg-laying; perhaps the cooling breeze told her that her time was nearly over.

Autumn’s arrival signals many endings, it’s true. But abundant fruits, well-hidden egg masses, slumbering salamanders, toads, anoles, skinks, and myriad snakes ensure that Spring’s beginnings are just a winter’s sleep away. Now is the time to tidy up our yards, tuck in a few new shrubs and trees, and settle indoors for some well-earned rest. Now is the time to dream of coming snows and next spring’s gardens.

Happy Autumn, everyone!

Happy Autumn, everyone!

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Autumn’s Fruits and Nuts

Autumn is only a few weeks along, but the occupants of my yard and gardens are progressing toward readying themselves for winter. For example, the lovely mushrooms in the above photo are sprouting up beside my driveway in growing numbers. As they grow from button stage (far left) to middle age (far right) and full ripeness (center), zillions of mushroom spores are readying themselves for release from the gills under the caps. Many colors and shapes of fungi are currently taking advantage of the cooler, damp weather here.

The Black Walnut had a very productive year. Hard hats to defend against falling nuts are no longer required when walking beneath it, but now one must watch every step to avoid slipping on the yellow-green orbs hiding in the grass.

The squirrels wait for the outer green husks to soften before they start working on these nuts.

The Red Buckeye had another bumper crop year. These nuts are poisonous, but the squirrels can’t resist carrying them all over the yard and burying them.

The outer husks crack open and drop the buckeyes to the ground. Some folks think these fruits are good luck.

The Beautyberry shrub and the big Hearts-a-burstin’ flourishing on the upper floodplain both had very productive years.

Even in deep shade, these colorful berries glow like Christmas ornaments.

Breaking hearts abound.

The Asian kousa dogwoods were also very fruitful. The evergreen one tended to produce fewer, fatter red globes like this:

The deciduous kousa dogwood must have been very thoroughly pollinated this year — yet another autumn beauty that seems to be vying for Christmas tree status.

This Cornus kousa dwells beside our back deck. Its leaves are just beginning to turn lovely shades of orange.

This recent visitor below was neither a fruit nor a nut, but it was so gorgeous that Wonder Spouse felt obliged to take its picture, and I’m glad he did. This was a new insect for us, a showy member of the dung beetle clan. Truly, if someone made a jeweled pin based on this creature, I would proudly wear it.

Meet a male Rainbow Scarab. The “horn” denotes its gender.

And here’s more of a side view:

Note the bit of spider web tangled in its horn.

This fellow was walking around our back deck. We suspect it stunned itself on one of our windows, staggering about just long enough for Wonder Spouse to document his visit. He flew off ten minutes later.

I’ll close today with a few more nuts — the animal kind. We seem to have a bumper crop of Green Anoles this year, perhaps the result of behavior like what I documented here. The front of our house faces west. Warmth from late afternoon sun combined with a flourishing front garden seem to have produced ideal anole habitat. One afternoon last week, I caught four basking on various parts of the front of my house — some large, some quite small.

The first one I saw was a large brown lizard that had trapped itself between my front door and the outer storm door. When I opened the inner door to go out, it frantically beat itself against the storm door until I could get it open. Here it is glowering at me as it recovers from its self-inflicted trauma.

Undamaged, but unhappy.

After taking that one’s picture, I noticed a small one basking on the front wall.

It was about six inches long, but quite skinny.

Then I spotted this green one hanging out around my bedroom window. It actually climbed the glass and seemed to be trying to peer inside.

I tried to persuade it that it will be far happier outdoors.

Finally that day, I spotted another green one below the bedroom window on the wall behind an overgrown rosemary shrub. It was more shy than the other three.

This rosemary started blooming last winter and only stopped during the July heat wave.

These anoles were all out on a very warm day. We had a string of 80+-degree days ahead of a cold front. I think perhaps they were all trying to soak up as much heat as they could before retiring to their winter slumber spots. I’m wondering if perhaps their abundance is making it difficult for them to all find cozy winter quarters, because of what I observed yesterday.

Yesterday was the last warm day before the arrival of a cold front that has dropped our temperatures about thirty degrees. And it was yesterday that Wonder Spouse noticed that a brown anole was actually on the inside of the window beside our front door. It must have slipped inside when one of us opened the door. It may well have been the same one that I caught between the two doors the day before.

Fortunately, it was quite cooperative about its relocation to the outdoors. We used a butterfly net, intending to scoop it up gently. But it chose to perch quietly on the rim long enough for us to escort it back outside to the garden, none the worse for its adventure.

Late yesterday as the sun was setting, one of the anoles did something even more unexpected — nuttier, if you will. I always leave my hummingbird feeder filled until the second week of October, or until I don’t see any hummers for a week or so. Yesterday when I checked the feeder before going inside, I saw this:

Yes, that’s an anole head peeking out from the middle. It’s curled up in the center cup where one can put water to deter ants.

I imagine the surrounding sugar water was quite warm from the late afternoon sun, and this little one thought it had found an ideal hangout. Of course, the water doesn’t stay warm at night, and any hummers trying to drop by wouldn’t know what to think, so we gently lifted down the feeder and encouraged the anole to return to the garden.

It really didn’t want to leave its cozy spot, but I think it was probably for the best.

I checked the front wall today without expecting to see any anoles. One brown one stuck its head out from behind a gutter for just a moment, then disappeared. Given our drizzly, chilly day, I was surprised to see an anole at all. I hope they are all settling down for a long winter’s sleep, along with all the other plants and animals that share our five acres of North Carolina Piedmont.

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Beauteous Beautyberry

Stunning fruit clusters of native American Beautyberry

Over the last twenty-plus years, I’ve been adding small trees and shrubs to my landscape with two main goals: increased beauty and improved wildlife habitat. Every plant I’ve added meets one or both of these objectives, including this native shrub —  American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana).

This shrub, native to moist woodland edges and pine woods throughout the southeast, will usually grow 3-5 feet tall, but it’s been known to get as tall as 9 feet. I’d guess that mine is about six feet tall. Its habit is loose and open, and the leaves are rather large, arranged oppositely each other in pairs on the stems. It does well at the back of a border or mixed in with other understory plants in naturalized areas, where it goes unnoticed until this time of year, when the fruits light up my woodland.

On my plant, neon-magenta fruits (technically, drupes) as shiny as Mardi Gras beads grow in big clusters around the branch stems at the leaf axils. I’ve read that fruit color in the species varies from more violet and pink shades to the electrifying magenta of my plant, and you can also find white-fruited forms. I like the way the fruit clusters on my specimen light up the forest edge, where it thrives at the bottom of a hill.

You’ll often see recommendations to cut this shrub back to no more than a foot tall in late winter to help you maintain a moderate-sized shrub. This works, but my recommendation is to site plants with their mature size in mind, allowing them to grow into their designated space without exceeding it.

Birds are supposed to like the fruits. My references say they are favored by Northern Bobwhites, American Robins, Cardinals, Catbirds, Mockingbirds, and Brown Thrashers, among others. However, in my yard, they are a food of last resort, usually shriveling into raisin-like clusters by late winter before they are finally consumed.

White-tailed Deer are supposed to eat the leaves of this shrub with moderate enthusiasm, but I’ve never noticed any signs of deer browsing on my specimen. They’re also supposed to favor the fruit clusters after leaf fall, but again, I’ve seen no evidence of that in my yard. Raccoon and Opossums are also supposed to like the fruits. Maybe my shrub has particularly bad-tasting fruits, because I’ve seen no signs of their nibbling either.

My many-branched shrub produces excellent fruit crops in all but the most severe drought years. Here’s a shot that gives you a better idea of fruit spacing along the branches:

Plenty of fruit for everyone

The apparent unpopularity of the fruits with the wildlife in my yard frees me of any guilt when I cut a few branches to display in the house. Paired with short evergreen magnolia branches and a few late flowers, the berried branches add pizzazz to indoor autumn arrangements.

In my opinion, this easy-going native shrub should adorn more Piedmont yards. Its low-maintenance requirements, tolerance of many soils and levels of shade, and its electrifying autumn fruits will brighten any landscape.


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