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Native shrubs that won't impress the neighbors (if the neighbors are wildlife).

Quite a bit has been written about the use of native plants in urban/ suburban gardens. When you move into rural areas you rarely think about these things unless you run into a problem with the local wildlife. With the increasing rate of exodus from the cities that kind of conflict is increasing.

Although there are a number of products on the market, I know of nothing that will reliably and consistently prevent deer from nibbling when and where they choose. There are some common sense practices, however, that will help considerably in keeping peace in the neighborhood. One of these practices is to use native wildflowers as your decorative plantings. Instead of all that deer "candy" you buy at the local nursery, choose perennials and shrubs that are native to the area in which you live.

I have written about the use of native perennials in other places but have also had some considerable success with the cultivation and enjoyment of native shrub species. The logic behind this recommendation and practice is that deer and other species, are, generally, not going to go out of their way to browse on those species that already surround them. In addition, it goes against the grain for deer or other critters to approach the house to eat what they can find in their surroundings a safe distance from the house.

The species that have proven successful for us include sweet pepper-bushy clethera, sweet spire Itea virginica, strawberry shrub Euonymous americanus, beauty-berry Callicarpa americana and sweet shrub Calycanthus floridus, among others. You have to be a bit careful with Euonymous because this is one native shrub that deer do enjoy munching on. I have heard wildlife managers say that if you have Euonymous you don't have deer and if you have deer you don't have Euonymous. To some extent that is true, but we live in an area with a surplus of deer and we still have Euonymous. What works for us is to mix the Euonymous in with other perennials and shrubs that do not attract deer. The same rule works for Callicarpa and wild turkey. Again, we live deep in a mature oak forest, the kind of habitat turkeys love. The beauty berry we planted away from the house are routinely stripped of their berries while those plants in planters alongside the house are never touched. This notwithstanding, deer and turkey are often no further than 10 feet from the study window from where I am writing this.

At White Oak Cottage we are fortunate in having several additional native shrubs with high decorative potential that are rarely bothered by our wild neighbors (human or otherwise). These include, but are not limited to, the red buckeye Aesculus pavia and the native azalea Rhododendron roseum.

In trying to determine what may work in your planters, look at your own property and spend some time driving around your area. Make a list of those things that grow alongside the road, in the ditches, and in the forest. Look at the conditions in which you find them. What is the nature of the soil, is it normally wet or dry, sand and loose or stiff with clay? Is the shrub shade tolerant or does it require full sun? A little bit of enjoyable local natural history can be very helpful in determining the correct conditions to establish when you give these species a try around your home.

Now, do you dig them or buy them? if the plants are on your land they are your property and you can dig them and transplant them. If the plant occurs on private lands other than yours, you need permission from the owner to remove them. If they occur on lands owned by the city/ county/state or federal government, you need a permit, if a permit is possible. I generally don't support removing plants from land other than private land and then only with specific permission of the landowner. It is often much better to raise the plant from seed or purchase the species in which you are interested from a nursery offering native shrubs. In any event, look around your little patch of rural paradise. You may have more than enough to go around.

When transplanting, choose plants small enough so that the root system is not damaged when they are dug and moved. At White Oak Cottage we always amend the host site with a compost we make from the hay grass cut from our meadow mixed with oak leaves. This material is layered and turned over in the fall and winter, and by planting season provides a rich medium for the transplants. Provide adequate water and add a little root growth stimulant * for the first several months to help the shrub seedling become established. We have been pleased with our success using these techniques.

Remember that native plants found in your specific area have successfully colonized the area and should do equally well, under similar conditions when you transplant them. Because they come from your area, they should require less care, less water, and less fertilizer than non-native plants or native plants brought in from elsewhere. There is a caveat in using native shrubs (and wildflowers}. Remember that over the millennia of evolutionary development native plants have made their peace with the environmental conditions in the area where they are endemic or where they have colonized. Consequently many native plants, when transplanted, can become quite aggressive. At White Oak Cottage we have rarely had a problem with successful transplants. Plants tend to reestablish quite readily, even in a soil that would build great bricks! We have often had a problem with aggressive spreading. Control rather than survival is the issue. Because there is no such thing as a free lunch, I would rather struggle a bit with control than a reluctance of a species to become established, as long as the species in question is native.

Native species offer attractive, often beautiful flowers such as the racemes of clethera and itea, the subtle perfume of Calycanthus, and the unique flowers of Callicarpa and Euonymous. A planting combining any of this surrounded by native ferns and the beautiful blue of the mist flower can be extremely attractive, and the deer and turkeys will leave it alone.

* Ed. note: Root growth stimulant is not absolutely necessary, as the plant should be fine with good mulch and plenty of water. However, if you would like to make your own root stimulant, see page 53 in the July/August 2003 issue of COUNTRYSIDE.
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Author:Baugh, Tom
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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