What a great opportunity you have to create a native planting at the back of your property that will also be enjoyed by the neighboring school students. Think of the space as three layers – the upper tree canopy, the middle shrub or small tree section and the lower section that has groundcovers, perennials and biennials. Your plan can easily include excellent native plants for all three of these layers. You can also have several different plants in the middle and lower layers that have attractive flowering, foliage or fruiting features during different times of the year.
The first place to go to find a list of potential plants 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: Massachusetts, All habits (or just search for trees, shrubs, etc.), and Duration – Perennial. You can narrow down this search further by indicating blooming time, soil moisture and height specifics.
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 fewer plants.
Once you have a large list of potential plants for your three layers, then it is time to cross reference them with the deer-resistant species. To do this, take a look at our recommended species list of deer-resistant plants. Then narrow your search to those native to Massachusetts and other specifics you would like.
Some of the deer-resistant plants that you might consider include:
Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine) Perennial to 2 ft.
Eupatorium serotinum (white boneset) Perennial to 3 ft.
Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (coralberry) Shrub to 4 ft.
Amorpha fruticosa (indigo bush) Shrub to 10 ft.
Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac) Shrub to 12 ft.
Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud) Small tree to 30 ft.
Ptelea trifoliata (common hoptree) Small tree to 30 ft.
Juniperus virginiana (Eastern red cedar) Evergreen tree to 30 ft.
Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore) Tree to 100 ft.
Lastly, you said you specifically wanted to avoid plants that were hosts to the hemlock woolly adelgid, a tiny insect closely related to an aphid. This insect severely weakens and kills Tsuga caroliniana (Carolina hemlock) and Tsuga canadensis (Eastern hemlock) over several years. In the Northeast, avoid planting these two hemlocks because of the seriousness of the hemlock woolly adelgid situation.