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Sunday - October 04, 2015

From: Whitehall, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Plant Lists, Trees
Title: Native Tree for Narrow Space in PA
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

I have a narrow space along my cedar fence in full sun. A Japanese maple approximately 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide is failing there due to winter rodent damage to its base. I would like to replace it with a native tree that would provide habitat for pollinators, food/shelter/nesting for birds, and autumn color for me. I live in zone 6 in eastern Pennsylvania. Can you identify possible small trees for my spot?

ANSWER:

Before you plant a native tree in the same location as the Japanese maple that succumbed to rodent girdling the trunk under the winter snow cover, make sure that this won't happen to the new tree as well. The Pennsylvania Nursery and Landscape Association suggest using trunk wrap from the soil to the first branch to protect from rodent damage. They also have some good tree planting tips on their website that might be worth reading.

To find potential replacement plants, take a look at the Native Plant Database and under the search criteria select Pennsylvania, Shrub or Tree, Perennial, Sun, 6-36 feet in height. This will give you an extensive list to narrow down to an appropriate plant.

Here are some suggestions from the Native Plant Database:

Ilex verticillata (common winterberry) The leaves of Common winterberry are not shaped with sharp teeth like other hollies and are not evergreen. The purplish green foliage turns black, in fact, with the first frost. The inconspicuous flowers, however, are followed by dense clusters of bright red berries that remain on the branches throughout winter. Winterberry is a globular, upright, medium-sized shrub, typically 6-10 ft. tall (to 20 ft. in some circumstances).

Extremely showy in late fall and early winter when covered with their bright red fruit, these shrubs are either male or female - a trait typical of the holly family. Birds are readily attracted to them. Since this shrub grows in both wet and dry sites, it is an adaptable naturalizer.

Winterberry tolerates poor drainage and is quite winter-hardy. You must have both a male and female plant to have berries. The male must be the same species as the female and bloom at the same time. Because hollies are such popular landscape plants, it may be worth the risk to plant a female and hope there is a male nearby.

All Ilex species may be somewhat toxic if ingested. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a person’s age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plant’s different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil. Attracts birds and butterflies.

Ptelea trifoliata (wafer ash) Aromatic shrub or small tree with a rounded crown. The trunk is slender and crooked, bearing interwoven, ascending branches. Bark, crushed foliage, and twigs have a slightly lemonlike, unpleasant musky odor. Trifoliate, deciduous leaves with leaflets on a petiole up to 2 inches long, the terminal leaflet up to 2 1/2 inches long, obovate, tapering more gradually to the base than to the tip, midrib of lateral leaflets off center. Leaves are dark-green in summer, turning yellow in fall. Flowers small, greenish white, in clusters among the leaves, appearing in April. Fruit distinctive, waferlike samara with broad wings, approximately 7/8 inch long by 3/4 inch wide.

This widespread species includes many varieties with leaflets of differing sizes and shapes. The common name refers to a reported use in earlier days of the bitter fruit as a substitute for hops in brewing beer. The bitter bark of the root, like other aromatic barks, has been used for home remedies.

It is an attractive, tall shrub or small understory tree, for both moist conditions and dry rocky sites. If grown in full sun and cut back, wafer ash will be quite bushy. Sweet nectar of this plant attracts many species of butterflies. All parts are aromatic. Prefers moist soil such as a watered garden or seep area. Attracts birds and butterflies. 

Clethra alnifolia (coastal pepperbush) Coastal sweet-pepper or summer sweet is a narrow, 6-12 ft., deciduous shrub, which often spreads into mounded clumps. A tall, many-branched, leafy shrub with spike-like, upright clusters of fragrant white flowers. The shrub has erect, multiple stems; exfoliating bark; and simple, oval, toothed leaves which turn dull yellow to orange in fall. The dense, narrow, cylindric flower spikes are often clustered together at branch ends. Fragrant flowers are white and are followed by brown capsules which persist through winter.

This shrub forms sizable patches and is remarkably free of any disease, insect, or physiological problems. Its dry fruiting capsules remain long after flowering and help identify this plant in winter. Attracts bees, butterflies, birds, hummingbirds and mammals.

Lindera benzoin (Northern spicebush) Northern spicebush is a single- or few-stemmed, deciduous shrub, 6-12 ft. tall, with glossy leaves and graceful, slender, light green branches. Leaves alternate on the branchlets, up to 6 inches long and 2 1/2 inches wide, upper surface dark green, lower surface lighter in color, obovate, tapering more gradually to the base than to the tip, tip somewhat extended margins without teeth or lobes. Dense clusters of tiny, pale yellow flowers bloom before the leaves from globose buds along the twigs. Flowers occur in umbel-like clusters and are followed by glossy red fruit. Both the fruit and foliage are aromatic. Leaves turn a colorful golden-yellow in fall.

In the North this plant is thought of as the “forsythia of the wilds” because its early spring flowering gives a subtle yellow tinge to many lowland woods where it is common. A tea can be made from the aromatic leaves and twigs. Attracts birds and butterflies.

Viburnum lantanoides (hobblebush) A 6-12 ft., open, straggling shrub, often with pendulous outer branches which root where they touch the ground. Flat-topped clusters of white flowers have a lacy effect similar to some hydrangeas and contrast well with the medium green foliage. Berries change from red to blue. The fall foliage is usually bright red. This shrub has fragrant, flat-topped clusters of small, white flowers, the outer flowers larger than the inner ones.

This straggly shrub has beautiful bronze-red or purple- pin autumn coloration and is used by wildlife for food and cover. Its branches often bend and take root, tripping or hobbling passers-by; hence its common name. Attracts birds and mammals.

 

From the Image Gallery


Common winterberry
Ilex verticillata

Common winterberry
Ilex verticillata

Common winterberry
Ilex verticillata

Wafer ash
Ptelea trifoliata

Wafer ash
Ptelea trifoliata

Wafer ash
Ptelea trifoliata

Coastal pepperbush
Clethra alnifolia

Coastal pepperbush
Clethra alnifolia

Northern spicebush
Lindera benzoin

Northern spicebush
Lindera benzoin

Northern spicebush
Lindera benzoin

Hobblebush
Viburnum lantanoides

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