Replace Non-native Bushes With High Impact Native Bushes
Updated: Feb 2
Rewilding a semi-urban yard to create an eco-friendly sanctuary is more emotional than I anticipated. Almost a year and a half ago after I had dug up most of the non-native perennials in my yard, I set my sights on the non-native bushes.
Removing the overwhelmingly pedestrian landscape shrubs in my yard was easier once I made a list of where they were native to.
Native to Japan - spirea, clayera, acuba, euonymous, boxwood, aralia, plum yew
Native to China - forsythia
Native to Africa – podocarpus
Unless there are outliers I’m not aware of, the fact that none of the non-native bushes growing in my yard hosted any butterfly or moth species sealed their fate for me.
Saying goodbye to my collection of exotic ornamentals including hybrid hydrangeas with evocative names like wedding gown, blushing bride, Chantilly lace, and dancing snow, snow-white camellias that bloomed in the dead of winter, neon pink spring azaleas, and ambrosial gardenias may have been my biggest naturescaping breakthrough. I need to maximize the habitat benefit every plant provides in my small yard. At best some these traditional Southern bushes offered temporary wildlife shelter, but their contribution of food and pollinator habitat support was lacking. It was time to make the leap and Maria Kondo them…thank them for the joy they brought me before letting them go.
In the end I tied orange flagging tape to well over two dozen bushes for my husband to dig up on weekends throughout the winter.
The removal of the ornamental non-natives made room for the dozens of more habitat friendly native bushes and small trees I had bought at fall plant sales or been gifted by friends. Some of the plants included black willow (salix nigra), blueberries (vaccinium), serviceberry (amelanchier), viburnums (viburnum), spirea (spiraea tomentosa), New Jersey tea (ceanothus), elderberry (sambucus), chokeberries (photinia/aronia), coralberry (symphoricarpos orbiculatus), buttonbush (cephalanthus), spicebush (lindera), fetterbush (lyonia), summersweet (clethra), titi tree (cyrilla racemiflora), sweet shrub (calycanthus), hearts a bustin’ (euonymous americanus), virginia sweetspire (itea virginiana), fothergilla (fothergilla gardenia), and native azaleas (rhododendrons),
I still had plenty of spots left to plant even more bushes last spring. Unfortunately, when the pandemic hit my favorite native plant sales evaporated. I planted perennials as place holders and last fall I found more bushes at native plant nurseries and smaller scale native plant sales. I hope to add more native bushes in the coming months.
Every bush and tree I was able to plant is thriving and contributing to a healthier habitat including the following high value host plants for butterflies and moths:
The 3-foot black willow (silex nigra) seedling that my friend Sandi gave over a year ago is now almost 7 feet tall! It loves the partially sunny, slightly soggy part of the backyard I planted it in. It also supports 455 different caterpillars!
The native spirea steeplebush (spiraea tomentosa) is much showier than any hybrid and does double duty as a pollinator nectar source and a host plant for 89 butterfly and moth species Staplebush has rewarded me for planting it in a moist and partially sunny area with tiny pollinator attracting clusters of petite flowers on sweet pink spikes.
Coralberry or snowberry (symphoricarpos orbiculatus) is a host bush for 25 caterpillars, including the enchanting hummingbird moth. Pollinators are attracted to the white and green spring flowers and hungry winter robins seem to enjoy the light orchid berries that brighten the winter landscape.
Removing and replacing non-native bushes was like firing someone who is just not up to the job… not only did I not regret it, but I wish I had done it sooner!