Shrubs are the go-to plants for landscapers. Native shrubs fill important ecological functions, providing berries and shelter for birds (which nest at a variety of heights), and host plants for numerous insects.
There are native shrubs for every growing condition. Deer deterrents may be needed, depending on the plant and the location. From the standpoint of ecological value and resilience, the straight species, propagated by seed, provide the most benefit. For some gardening situations, though, cultivars (which are clones) allow the use of a species that might otherwise be too large for the space.
If you choose a shrub whose ultimate size will fit the space, there will be no need for pruning. If desired, most shrubs can be pruned in late winter by cutting 1/3 of the stems to the ground, leaving others, removing suckers as needed, and shaping the upper layers lightly as needed. Warning: if you leave your perennials standing over the winter, which is highly desirable, it is wise to cut them back before you let a landscaping company work on your property, as they might end up cutting down the shrubs as well!
Over forty species of Northern Virginia native shrubs are available for sale and suitable for landscapes. Below are some of the most popular. For more details on growing conditions, see our master spreadsheet for landscape professionals.
Red and Black Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia and melanocarpa): Beautiful white flowers, fall foliage and long-lasting berries. Smaller cultivars available of Black Chokeberry. The fruit are not preferred food sources but are a starvation food readily consumed in late February or March by desperate birds.
New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus): Short and compact with a showy flower. Host plant for the Summer Azure Butterfly (shown) and others.
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis): Perfect for a low, wet area, even standing water, though tolerates moist conditions as well. If the plants become too large, may cut back near the ground to revitalize. Very popular with pollinators, and with birds who eat the seeds.
Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa): Terminal red stems hold clusters of berries. Very adaptable plant.
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana): Blooms in November. Smaller cultivars are available.
Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata): Striking red berries persist into January. (Only female plants produce berries.) Versatile, though best berries in full sun. Cultivars in many sizes and berry colors.
Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica): Showy white flowers attract many butterflies.Can be sheared after flowering. Comes in multiple sizes.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin): Early yellow flowers make a substitute for forsythia. At least one male is needed for the females to produce the berries, which are a favorite food source for 17 species of migrating birds. Host plant for the Spicebush Butterfly and the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.
Southern Bayberry (Morella cerifera): Evergreen at temperatures above 0 Fahrenheit. Beautiful berries are popular with birds (at least one male is needed for the females to produce berries). Glossy foliage can be sheared to a hedge. Smaller cultivars available.
Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius): Cascading form with beautiful white flowers, attractive bark. Smaller cultivars available.
Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica): The Gro-Low cultivar spreads sideways up to eight feet and can serve as ground cover. Provides food for scores of species of birds and caterpillars.
Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina): Conspicuous mid-summer bloom and gorgeous fall color. Six foot cultivar available. Survival species for birds -the fruit is still available in early spring.
Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum): Spectacular fall foliage. Usually (but not always) two plants are needed for the female to produce the gorgeous berries.
Carolina Rose (Rosa carolina): Beautiful red hips in fall. Suckers profusely to form a thicket.
Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba): Long bloom time, good fall color.
Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum): This is the blueberry we eat. Requires acidic soil. Plant two or more selections that bloom at the same time for best fruit production.
Arrow-wood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum): Two are needed to produce berries. Small cultivars available.
Possum-haw (Viburnum nudum): Glossy leaves. Short varieties available. Plant two different selections for best fruit.
Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium): Very versatile. Can be grown in a tree shape.