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Plant Native Plants for Decorating from Winter to Spring

by Ellen Todd
 
[Note: This article is the first in a series that Ellen is writing in support of the recent two-year Native Plant Challenge started by the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts (GCFM.) GCFM hopes that garden club members and others will be encouraged to plant more natives in their yards. Future articles will cover a variety of related topics about how natives can beautify your yard and about ways in which they are beneficial to wildlife. Ellen studied design at the Landscape Institute of The Arnold Arboretum, and is a member of Groton Garden Club, and the Native Plant Challenge Advisory Committee of the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts.]
 
     Here we are at the end of an unusually warm winter as we yearn for signs of spring. This between-seasons time is good for planning for the up-coming garden season. What can we plant to make our yards more beautiful in the summer, fall, and even winter or early spring? I suggest that we all consider planting more plants that are native to our area. There are natives that can be used to decorate for winter holidays, and others that bring a taste of spring. If you plant these shrubs and trees this year, it will only be a few years until you can start to use trimmings for your own decorating.
     A few suggested plants include:
Redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea sericea) – and no, that duplication of words is not a typo. There are other dogwoods with red twigs, though they are not native to Massachusetts. This plant displays best color on young growth so it looks best if the larger branches are cut while still retaining a strong red color.
Smooth Winterberry (Ilex laevigata) is good for swampy wet spots, and Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) will tolerate wetland or drier conditions. As with all ilex, both require a male and female of the same species in order to grow the bright red berries we prize for holiday decorating. The berries will last from fall into midwinter on outdoor plantings and arrangements, unless eaten by birds.
Inkberry (Ilex glabra) – this evergreen holly has small, oval, glossy leaves that are nice as filler for wreaths, outdoor arrangements, and table arrangements throughout the year. The dark berries are inconspicuous and should be removed for indoor decorating as they are slightly toxic. The flowers are beneficial to bees, the berries are eaten by birds and the plant is also used as cover by birds and animals. Inkberry can sucker and spread, although, because it is slow-growing and easily trimmed, it makes a good substitute for boxwood.
Pussy willow (Salix discolor) can be used by itself or in combination with other flowers in late winter bouquets. A small bundle of stems can be costly, so it makes sense to grow this if you have a damp spot in your yard. if buying plants, be sure to get S. discolor. There are many non-native pussy willows that don’t have the same benefit to wildlife.
     Any of these plants will add interest to your yard while supporting many birds, bees and other wildlife in your yard.
 
 
    
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