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Mr. Smarty Plants - Understory Shrubs for Pennsylvania Clay

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Wednesday - December 04, 2013

From: Collegeville, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Shade Tolerant, Shrubs
Title: Understory Shrubs for Pennsylvania Clay
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

I want to replace three non-native Euonymus alatus with native shrubs that will serve as host plants for butterfly/moth species and/or attract bumblebees and other native bees. The shrubs I have are growing in moist to dry clay soil under a high canopy of hackberry trees; the area is bright, but not sunny. Benefit to birds would be great as well, but how much can I ask of a plant willing to grow in the shade? I am in southeastern PA, zone 6b (7a?) Any suggestions you have would be much appreciated. Thanks for your help.

ANSWER:

The first place to go to find a list of potential replacement shrubs is our Native Plant Database. Use the Combination Search feature instead of Recommended Species. This will provide a bigger selection with much more choice to narrow down. The volunteers and staff at the Wildflower Center who maintain the database have partners in different regions to help with these recommended species lists based on what is easy to access in local nurseries.
Under Combination Search, select the following categories: PA, Habit- Shrub, Duration – Perennial, Light Requirement – Part Shade or Shade, Soil Moisture – Moist & Dry, and Size Characteristics – 3-12 ft. You can narrow down this search further by indicating blooming time and leaf characteristics if desired.
Follow each plant link to our webpage for that plant to learn its growing conditions, bloom time, etc. At the bottom of each plant webpage, under Additional Resources, there is a link to the USDA webpage for that plant. Take a look there for more specific details about suitability before you put them on your final planting list. Think about including plants that have interest during a variety of seasons and that have more than one attractive feature (flower, fruit, foliage, bark, etc.) so you can get more benefits out of your replacement plants.
 The Native Plant Database Search resulted in about 50 possibilities under the Part Shade filter and 38 with a shade filter.
With this preliminary list, the next step is to consider the wildlife benefit and soil preference. Take note of the “Use Wildlife” and the “Soil Description” information in the native plant database. Look for phrases like … larval and nectar food for butterflies, important for native bees, an important browse and food plant for birds and other wildlife, and tolerant of clay soils for the best fits to your site.
Some shrubs to consider that are good plants include:
Amelanchier sanguinea (roundleaf serviceberry)  birds
Amelanchier stolonifera (running serviceberry) birds
Cephalanthus occidentalis (common buttonbush) bees
Clethra alnifolia (coastal sweet pepperbush) birds, butterflies, bees
Cornus obliqua (silky dogwood) bees
Physocarpus opulifolius (common ninebark) birds, bees
Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac) bees, birds, butterflies
Rosa setigera (climbing prairie rose) birds, bees
Rubus allegheniensis (Allegheny blackberry) birds, bees
Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (coralberry) birds, bees
Viburnum acerifolium (mapleleaf viburnum) birds, butterflies

 

 

From the Image Gallery


Roundleaf serviceberry
Amelanchier sanguinea

Running serviceberry
Amelanchier stolonifera

Common buttonbush
Cephalanthus occidentalis

Coastal sweet pepperbush
Clethra alnifolia

Atlantic ninebark
Physocarpus opulifolius

Fragrant sumac
Rhus aromatica

Climbing prairie rose
Rosa setigera

Allegheny blackberry
Rubus allegheniensis

Coralberry
Symphoricarpos orbiculatus

Mapleleaf viburnum
Viburnum acerifolium

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