By Steffie Littlefield
Being environmentally responsible isn’t just limited to using organic fertilizers, recycling pots and watering less. The issue of invasive plants threatening our native woodlands is real and costing conservation groups millions of dollars to fight. The solution to this problem can be found in many backyards by getting rid of Asian honeysuckle. For home owners this can be a really positive change to their landscape, for taking out something creates the opportunity to replace it with something better.
Removing honeysuckle stands often allows one to regain land rendered unusable by the dense invasive shrubs, encourage native wildflowers to thrive and opens space for lovely manageable shrubs that will enhance the properties value. What’s stopping many people is the need for screening from public areas and the desire for privacy in densely populated neighborhoods. Do not fear there are many, many wonderful plants to use to create elegant, colorful ornamental borders.
For full sun and fast growth my top choices include crape myrtle, purpleleaf sandcherry, viburnum, lilac, ninebark, rose of Sharon, Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’, burning bush and bamboo. Crape myrtles have been know to grow 6+ feet in one year and flower mid-summer into the fall with some of the most colorful flowers I’ve ever seen. The purpleleaf sandcherry has, as its name suggests, dark purple foliage. Even more interesting are its dark purple stems with charming light pink flowers in early spring.
There are many viburnums to choose from; for fragrance look for Koreanspice, bright pink flowers are found on the Dawn (V. bodnantense), and colorful fruit the birds love on ‘Cardinal Candy’ or ‘Blue Muffin’ viburnums.
No one can resist the opportunity to include a fragrant old-fashioned lilac in their landscape, so tear out that honeysuckle and make room for a lilac. Another old-fashioned shrub that has a new form is the ‘Summer Wine’ ninebark with its lovely burgundy leaves that add color to your landscape all summer, along with the charming flowers prized on the original.
If flowers and lots of them are what you want, plant a few rose of Sharon, and enjoy their large tropical-looking flowers that give hummingbirds a treat. Mix a Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ in your shrub border for lovely sage green, cream and pink foliage all summer. This plant may even grow faster than the crape myrtles.
Burning bush is well known for its flaming foliage color in the fall, but did you know it has lovely white flowers in the spring and without pruning can create a wonderful dense hedge. The new clumping bamboos are perfect to create a visual barrier on the edge of the property, but still be aware of their invasive nature and take precautions to keep them in their proper location using a planting barrier such as heavy pond liner or metal roofing materials.
When the area to be planted is in part to full shade, there are still many terrific plants such as bottlebrush buckeye, bayberry, elderberry, mock orange, enkianthus, hydrangea, viburnum and witchhazel. If you haven’t heard about bottlebrush buckeye, go to the Missouri Botanical Garden. It’s a magnificent native plant that may be slow to establish but well worth it for the large white flowers and stately form. Another native, bayberry provides fragrant evergreen foliage and the famous silvery berries, and is happy growing in a woodland setting as well as in a sunnier spot. Elderberry has long been loved for its flowers and berries, but wait till you see exotic ‘Black Lace’ with its fabulous dark purple leaves.
One of my favorites for light shade is the charming mock orange covered in bright white flowers scented like orange blossoms. Enkianthus is really outstanding dripping in pink-striped bell-shaped flowers and covered in orange foliage in the fall. I cannot leave out hydrangeas, and the larger forms of H. paniculata and oakleaf hydrangeas are great for large summer flowers and grow well in sun to shade. The Allegheny viburnum is one of the best screening shrubs with dark green leaves that hang-on into winter, large showy flowers in spring and fast growth. Don’t be discouraged by deep shade because the witchhazels will fill the void beautifully and give you late winter flowers that are so fragrant you can smell them from across the yard, not to mention their incredible fall color.
So if you want to do something really positive for our environment this year, take out those invasive honeysuckle and plant any of these larger growing shrubs in its place. You will be rewarded with wonderful flowers and color for many years to come.
Steffie Littlefield is a horticulturist and garden designer at Garden Heights Nursery. She has degrees from St Louis Community College at Meramec and Southeast Missouri State University and is a member of the Gateway Professional Horticulturist Association (GPHA) and past president of the Horticulture Co-op of Metro St Louis.