Go native for beauty and utility

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The Roughleaf dogwood can be an alternative to a landscape that does well in Oklahoma.

I hope you are continuing to research and plan for your garden this spring. It is just about time to plant warmer season vegetables and flowers, and it may be a good time to consider some plants native to our area.

Native plants are of great benefit in our gardens; they do well in our climate and growing conditions, they are readily available and they are beautiful. This week features two American natives for you to try: the Roughleaf dogwood and the American beautyberry. Both are shrubs that do very well in Oklahoma; let's examine them.

Dogwoods, Cornus florida, are known for their beautiful blooms in the spring, but the variety we commonly see, especially in states like Virginia and Georgia, with the lovely white or pink bracts does not generally do well in Oklahoma except under special conditions. The Roughleaf dogwood, Cornus drummondii, is native to our area and it has lovely blooms and foliage, as well.

Roughleaf dogwood is a clumping shrub or small tree that grows up to 16 feet tall; it has flat-topped clusters of creamy white flowers from April to early June that change into hard, white fruit later in the summer. The leaves are about 4inches long, and the surface is slightly rough to the touch, and the leaves turn a lovely purplish-red in the fall. Although this plant has many trunks, it can be pruned to a tree form and is perfect plant to control erosion or shelter other plants.

The Roughleaf dogwood is extremely versatile and is found naturally in a variety of wet to dry situations from eastern Texas to Alabama and north to Ontario. It prefers some moisture but tolerates dry conditions if it is planted in deep soil. Additionally, it will adapt from full sun to heavy shade, producing more flowers the more sun it receives.

It grows quickly and produces many suckers, and this can be a negative in your garden or near your lawn. However, it is perfect for hedges, borders, stabilizing banks or planting for wildlife in naturalized areas. I have this dogwood planted in my shade garden, and it is a lovely overstory for my toad lilies, columbines and hostas. I simply prune the suckers to keep it from taking over the bed.

The flowers attract butterflies, and the fruit is quickly eaten by the birds; in fact, this plant provides food for at least 40 species of birds in the wild landscape.

The American beautyberry is another North American native that grows well in Oklahoma; it forms a round shrub, 5 to 8 feet tall and wide. Branches create lovely arches that bend to the ground. One variety, Callicarpa americana, has small lavender-pink blossoms from June to August, which then form clusters of showy purple berries in late summer. This plant is easy to maintain and can be used as a screen or accent in your garden; it grows easily in full sun or light, dappled shade in a variety of soils.

Another variety of beautyberry, one that I have in my garden, is the variegated "Duet," Callicarpa dichomata, which has medium green leaves with white-yellow edges. It blooms with small white flowers that change to white berries through mid-autumn, if the birds don't eat them first. This shrub is slightly smaller than the Americana and is also well suited to a variety of landscape uses. Because of the light leaf edges, it can really provide a bright spot in your garden. It is hardy from Zones 5 to 8 and tolerates many soil types.

As you are planning your garden, be sure to consider these terrific native plants for your landscape.

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