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5 Native Shrub Cultivars for Small Spaces

5 Native Shrub Cultivars for Small Spaces

By Heather Blackmore for Proven Winners
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners

Before we begin, let’s talk about what we mean by the word “native” since its definition can vary from one source to the next. We define native species as those plants which can be found growing naturally in the wild without any human intervention. Some people believe that if you collect seeds from a native plant, propagate them and give the new plants a name, they are no longer considered native.

We call selections of native plants native cultivars, or nativars for short. One way nativars can arise is by intentionally crossing native species to create new plants with desirable traits like improved flowering, stronger stems, a smaller form or increased disease resistance. All of the shrubs you’ll see in this article are considered native cultivars—they have parents with native roots but they themselves are cultivated plant selections.

One more important thing to know about natives is that native plants are endemic to a specific region, not the entire continent. For example, a plant that is native to the wetlands of Louisiana probably isn’t also native to the Arizona desert. If you are interested in familiarizing yourself with plants that are native to your specific region, a quick Google search of the plant name followed by “native range” should put you on the right track. You could read up on where and in what growing conditions native species thrive when you are deciding where your new native plants might grow best in your garden.

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Berry Poppins® winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

Why Grow Native Shrubs?

Native plants support ecosystems which are teeming with a living web of birds, insects, fungi and animals who depend on each other for survival. How wonderful is it to know that your native shrub cultivars are playing a key role in keeping your garden lively and relevant all year long?

Think of native cultivars as the kitchen table around which these vital species cohabitate and thrive. What better way to gather everyone at the table than to serve them what they love? You’ll be amazed by the number of guests who pull up a chair!

Now, let’s take a closer look at five different types of smaller scale native shrub cultivars that will easily fit into your landscape even if space is limited.

Berry Poppins® winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

Native winterberry holly species stand a good six to ten feet tall and are hardly conducive to small-space gardens. The native cultivar, Berry Poppins® (featured in above photo), takes things down to a more manageable size at three to four feet tall and wide. You’ll be glad this shrub loses its leaves every fall to reveal masses of bright red berries that brighten the winter landscape and attract a variety of hungry birds.

Ilex verticillata is hardy in zones 3-9 and can be found throughout much of North America and eastern Canada, reaching into the southern United States and as far west as Texas. Combined cold hardiness and excellent heat tolerance make it a versatile plant. One caveat: All winterberry hollies require a male pollinator to produce berries. For every five female winterberries, you’ll need one male winterberry shrub planted within 50 feet for good pollination to occur.

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Proud Berry® coralberry (Symphoricarpos)

The bubblegum pink berries on this native shrub cultivar are like no other! While inconspicuous, the spring-blooming flowers which precede the fruit attract bees and other insects. As fall approaches, the flowers swell into clusters of pink berries whose color deepens as the mercury drops. While not edible for humans, they are a great food source for birds in mid-late winter. Coralberry is also a host plant for the caterpillars of three native moth species.

Coralberry is native to the eastern United States and west to Colorado. Unlike winterberry holly, it does not require male and female plants grown together to produce berries. For the best fruiting, simply plant this shrub in full sun. Our native cultivar, Proud Berry® coralberry, is hardy in zones 3-7, grows three to four feet tall and wide at maturity, is incredibly cold tolerant and is undeterred in difficult soils. If deer pressure is your reality, it resists them too!

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Low Scape Mound® chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

Chokeberry is a native shrub that nearly everyone in North America can grow. Sun or shade, wet soil or dry, flat or sloped ground—there really isn’t a planting situation this toughie can’t handle. It knocks it out of the park all season beginning with pretty spring blooms and ending with fabulous fall foliage.

Standing one to two feet tall and reaching up to two feet across, Low Scape Mound® is a much smaller version of the native species which can reach up to ten feet tall. In spring, the shrub is covered in dainty white flowers that sit atop glossy green foliage. Its deep purple-black berries, while technically edible, are extremely bitter tasting (hence the name “chokeberry”) but birds will gobble them up. Come fall, the berries are a striking contrast to the brilliant red, orange and yellow foliage.

Hardy in zones 3-9, chokeberry is tolerant of heat, cold, drought and salt. We told you it was a good one!

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Sting™ arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)

Evergreens play a vital role in the garden, contributing to the bones of the landscape, especially during the winter months. They’re also important for birds in need of a safe space to rest or evade predators. However, a suitable evergreen can be a difficult prospect in small spaces. Our native arborvitaes are some of the most frequently planted evergreens for hedges and privacy fences across the country in residential and commercial plantings, but not all of them will fit in small gardens.

If that’s a challenge you face, consider planting a newer native arborvitae cultivar called Sting™ which is hardy in zones 3-8. It stays just 12 to 18 inches wide so it has a very small footprint, but it reaches 15 to 20 feet tall. This shrub acts like a giant green exclamation point in the garden. Use it to make a big statement in narrow spaces.

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Invincibelle Wee White® smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)

If this hydrangea looks familiar, you probably know its bigger relative, ‘Annabelle’ which grows three to six feet tall. Invincibelle Wee White® smooth hydrangea is the only known dwarf form of ‘Annabelle’ in the world. At maturity, it reaches just 12 to 30 inches tall and wide. Its petite size makes it easy to fit into small landscapes, and since it grows in both sun and part shade, everyone can find a spot for Invincibelle Wee White.

Known botanically as Hydrangea arborescens, the native range of this species expands from New York to Florida and west to Oklahoma in zones 3-8. Unlike ‘Annabelle’ who’s a notorious flopper, Invincibelle Wee White® hydrangea holds its large flowers upright, looking more like a tightly bound bouquet than a loose shrub.

Flowering begins in early summer and continues through frost with regular deadheading. Spent blooms, if left on the plant through winter, add interest to the landscape. A dusting of snow in cold climates is the cherry on top.

 Learn more about native shrubs:

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Patent Information: Berry Poppins® Ilex verticillata USPP25835 Can5286; Proud Berry® Symphoricarpos sp. USPP21226; Low Scape Mound® Aronia melanocarpa USPP28789 Can6519; Sting™ Thuja occidentalis USPP34292 CanPBRAF; Invincibelle Wee White® Hydrangea arborescens USPP30296 Can6345

Heather Blackmore is a Chicago-area gardener, writer and speaker who hopes her passion will inspire others to find their way to a happier, healthier life in the garden.

All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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