For The Tribune
I’m often asked, “What are the best trees or shrubs to plant in my yard?”
People expect me to give a list of trees and shrubs without caring about the “why.”
My response is, “Any that meets a habitat need for one or more critters.”
My answer isn’t the expected one, but it does answer the purpose of why to plant this tree or shrub over another option.
It will be tree-planting season here in a few months, so here is my list of trees and shrubs that work well in your yard and the reason why.
Any native viburnum. They produce small fruits for birds, such as cardinals and waxwings. They are a host plant for many butterflies and moths, such as clearwing moths and some sphynx moths. These larvae then feed many birds and their young, such as bluebirds and cardinals. Their flowers provide nectar and pollen for smaller pollinators.
Any native dogwood tree or shrub. Some of these species are what we call understory plants. They require some protection and shade from the elements. Again, they are a host plant, good for pollinators and provide fruit for birds.
Native crabapple trees. The natives have smaller apples than the non-natives. Waxwings love to eat the fruits. Many birds will nest in these trees, as well. Pollinators, such as bees and hummingbirds, seem to get their fill of pollen and nectar.
Oaks that will fit in your yard when mature. Oaks are a host plant for hundreds of species of butterflies and moths. Consequently, they can support many songbirds that feed their young the larvae of these butterflies and moths. So if your oak tree leaves seem to be holey, then it’s doing its job. Oaks are wind pollinated; therefore, they are not a major source of food for adult pollinators. Their nuts provide food for many mammals and birds throughout the winter.
Any native evergreen. Providing year-round shelter from the elements benefits many different kinds of wildlife, from butterflies and birds to rabbits and deer. You can prune them to fit your space, as well. The Eastern red cedar provides many habitat needs throughout the year. They have berries to feed birds and other wildlife. You may even find an owl or two hanging out in a mature cedar. Look for the owl pellets on the ground underneath the tree. White pines are somewhat fast growing and can provide windbreaks in close plantings. The seeds from their cones provide food for many birds and other animals. And don’t stop at trees. Try a Christmas fern for low-growing, shady areas to provide shelter for our amphibious friends.
Whatever trees and shrubs you decide to plant, make sure it meets one or more habitat needs of food, shelter, space (territory) and/or nesting. Try using the Native Plant Finder through the National Wildlife Federation to find natives suited to your area available online at nwf.org/nativeplantfinder.