The Q&A Archives: Michigan shrubs

Question: What are the best shrubs for Michigan? I am not good at gardening so something that can stand the elements would be nice.

Answer: The following shrubs and shrub families should be highly considered as they are well adapted to Michigan's soil and climate conditions and offer valuable year-round wildlife habitat components:

American Highbush Cranberry is a widely available viburnum that is an upright, tall (8 to 12 feet) shrub adaptable to most soil types. It fruits well on sunny sites and its bright red berries remain on the bush well into winter. It is used for nesting by brown thrashers, catbirds, and many other songbirds. An excellent wildlife shrub on moist sites, it will also grow on sandy soil, although more slowly.

Dogwoods are used intensively by wildlife. In Michigan, the most popular varieties include silky dogwood, gray dogwood, and red-osier dogwood. They all produce flowers in the spring and fruits in the fall, and adapt to a variety of soils. Red-osier dogwood is so named as its bark is a bright to deep red when in full sun areas. It thrives on moist areas as well as sandy sites and can easily be used to form dense hedges.

Elderberry is often overlooked as a shrub for wildlife. Growing on a variety of sites in both sun and shade, it fruits best in sunny, moist areas to attract many songbird species in late summer and fall. Black elderberry is found on lowland sites, while red elderberry is found on upland sites.

Junipers and cedars provide good cover, nest sites, and food for songbirds. Scattered among deciduous shrubs, they enhance habitat diversity and can be used effectively in windbreaks and other strip covers. One drawback is that eastern red cedar is the alternate host for cedar-apple rust, which results in blemishes on the fruit and leaves of apple, crabapple, and hawthorns. For this reason do not plant it close to apple orchards.

Hawthorns are small thornapple trees that bear persistent fruits and are excellent nesting sites for songbirds. Washington Hawthorn is a common variety. Although difficult to transplant, hawthorns survive well on upland and lowland sites. They do best when planted at regular, well-spaced intervals among other low-growing trees and shrubs.

Crabapples come in many varieties from nurseries and grow from 10 to 30 feet tall. Like hawthorns, they provide nest sites for robins and other songbirds. They also have stunning flowers in the spring and fruits in the fall that are persistent through winter. If possible, choose disease resistant varieties.

Wild plums are growing in popularity among wildlife biologists as an alternative to planting exotic species. They have showy flowers and produce fruits that humans may also use. They spread by suckers to form clumps.

Nannyberry is a tall shrub or small tree that is used as an ornamental for its attractive flowers. It provides fruits in the fall for many species of wildlife. This shrub spreads by suckers and may be difficult to control near lawns and gardens.

Choosing from the above native or naturalized shrubs will not only provide ease of care, but will encourage birds to visit your garden.


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