In recent years, gardeners have discovered the many virtues of native plants and trees.

Native plants are well adapted to soil and climate conditions, require less watering, need no fertilizer, are more resistant to insects and disease, and help preserve rich natural ecosystems.

So as the old adage goes, “Right plant, right place.”

When selecting plants, consider:

  • Characteristics such as height and spread; the period of flowering; fruit and fall color
  • Optimum growth conditions such as sunlight, moisture, soil pH and soil type
  • Habitat, whether woodlands, clearings, flood plains and stream banks

When selecting trees, consider:

  • Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) as an understory (underlying layer of vegetation) in large tree groupings or as a single specimen in a small area.

Dogwoods are four-season trees that feature red-orange drupes (a fleshy fruit with a central stone) in spring.

A favorite with birds, dogwoods boast attractive scarlet red fall foliage and sculptured winter habit. They do best in partial shade; mature to a height and width of 25 feet, and can be purchased and planted in November.

  • Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) works very well as a single specimen or in groupings. These trees flower in mid-April to early May with pink to lavender flowers. Its leaves are heart shaped and turn golden yellow, forming black-brown pods that grow 2 to 3 inches long. Eastern redbud does best in partial sun to shade, grows to a spread and height of 20 feet, and can be planted and purchased in the fall.
  • American holly (Ilex opaca) is best planted as a specimen. The tree’s white or cream flowers appear in mid-May to June. Plant a female holly to obtain red drupes (berries), which appear in October and last until late winter when birds feast on them. Hollies grow in sun, partial shade and full shade. However, when grown in shade, flowering and fruit production is limited. The trees grow pyramidal to a height of 30 to 40 feet and a spread of 18 to 30 feet. Hollies can be planted in November but best transplant balled and burlapped or from a container in spring.
  • Serviceberry (shadbush or Amelanchier canadensis) should be planted as a specimen or in a grouping. A four-season shrubby multi-stemmed tree, service- berry bears white flowers in April or early May; edible red to purple drupes from June to July. Like hollies, their fruits are a favorite with the birds.

During fall, the trees’ flowers turn to orange and red. Serviceberry grow best in partial to full shade and eventually grow to a spread of 20 feet and a height of 30 feet. Transplant them balled and burlapped or from a container in November.

  • Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) should be planted as a specimen.

A semi-evergreen to deciduous (shedding its leaves in late winter or early spring), the tree has fragrant flowers that blossom white to cream in late May to June. In September and October, red berries will appear. The sweetbay magnolia’s leaves are dark shiny green and silvery on the bottom and they turn yellow in the fall. The tree grows in sun, partial shade and in full shade with an average spread to 20 feet and a height to 25 feet. They are easily transplanted in slightly acidic soil (pH less than 6.5-5.0) from a container in November.

Rebecca Brown began her career as a horticulturist more than 25 years ago and studied at the New York Botanical Gardens. She has been a University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) master gardener for five years and is a backyard beekeeper. Norman Cohen is a retired chemist. He has been gardening for 38 years and has been a UMBC master gardener for 12 years. Cohen also provides gardening education to the public at local farmers markets.