Rhododendron maximum

2013 – Rosebay Rhododendron

The Rosebay Rhododendron is an evergreen multi-stemmed shrub with dark green foliage and clusters of white flowers. These shrubs grow wild in many mountain habitats where they can form dense thickets that can be up to 30ft tall. A more typical mature landscape size, however, is about 10-15ft tall and 7-10ft wide. The dense growth and evergreen foliage of these rhododendrons make good borders or screens in a landscape. The growing habit is fairly irregular which gives the plant an interesting structure. Because of this unique structure, branches from this plant are often cut and used to make furniture. Rosebay Rhododendrons also have clusters of white to pink flowers that can be made up of as many as 25 flowers, each about 1” across.

Plant this rhododendron in partial to full shade in areas with moist but well-drained soils. While the flowers provide a brief show in spring, the real landscape benefits of the Rosebay Rhododendron can be found in its deep, evergreen foliage creating an ideal backdrop for some of the showier plants in the home landscape.

Kalmia latifolia

2012 – Mountain Laurel

The mountain laurel is an ericaceous evergreen shrub with delicately ornate white to pink flowers. In addition to being one of the harbingers of spring and summer with its late May bloom time, the mountain laurel is Pennsylvania’s official state flower. These shrubs grow 4-10 feet tall with a typical spread of 4-5 feet. Along with the attractive flowers and evergreen foliage, mountain laurels also have very interesting form with a gnarled trucking pattern and dark bark that can be considered ornamental in its own right. While mountain laurel is an evergreen shrub that provides year-round interest with its form and foliage, it is not densely evergreen, and is typically used more as an accent than a screen.

The native range of the mountain laurel extends across the Eastern United States from Maine to Mississippi. They enjoy rocky, acidic soil that is moist with good drainage, but will also tolerate drier soil. Although wild mountain laurels can be found in the native woodland in large groves that sweep across deeply shaded hillsides, they are not aggressive and will not likely seed around your garden. Mountain laurels will grow in sun or shade and are fairly low maintenance. Pruning dead branches and removing old flower heads will give the plant a more tidy appearance, but is not necessary. While many wild birds use Mountain Laurels as a source of food, this plant is poisonous to humans.

Clethra alnifolia

2010 – Summersweet

Summersweet is a name that truly conveys the virtues and beauty of this native shrub. This deciduous plant grows to an oval shape with a with a height of 3-8 feet and a spread of 4-6 feet. It features fluffy, bottle-brush like spikes of fragrant white, rose or pink flowers which bloom for 4-6 weeks from mid to late summer and attract a variety of nectar gathering insects. The flower spikes give way to dark brown seed capsules which persist into winter, providing continued interest. It has glossy, dark green leaves which turn a brilliant yellow in the fall.

Summersweet makes an excellent, trouble-free shrub which masses well in planting displays in lawns or shrub borders although it will require regular watering until the plant becomes established. It can be easily grown in moist, acidic soils in full sun to part shade and is recommended most for perennial borders or foundation plantings and works especially well in wet areas such as low spots, stream banks or water edges.

Euonymus americanus

2009 – Strawberry Bush

The strawberry bush is a fairly uncommon native shrub most noted for its bumpy, raspberry-red seed pods that hang on the ends of the stems and open to reveal smooth, orange seeds.  Other striking features are its green bark and acute branching angles that provides interest throughout the year.  Strawberry bush grows 6 to 8 feet in ten years and its habit is loose and open becoming fuller with pruning and exposure to the sun.  They make wonderful woodland plants as they thrive naturally along shaded streams, in river bottoms or in moist open woods across the eastern U.S.

It has been reported that the bark and fruits are very toxic and should not be eaten.  Despite its potential danger, Native Americans once used the roots to make a tea for stomach and urinary problems.  Wild turkeys, wood thrushes, eastern bluebirds, yellow-rumped warblers, and northern mockingbirds consume and disseminate the seeds.

Aesculus parviflora

2008 – Bottlebrush Buckeye

The bottlebrush buckeye is a wide-spreading, suckering, multi-stemmed shrub making it an excellent plant for shrub borders. With its long, bottlebrush-like panicles of white flowers, there are few summer flowering plants which can rival this species.

If transplanting, do so in early spring into a moist, well-drained soil that has been adequately prepared with organic matter. It is best planted in full sun or partial shade and rarely needs pruning. It prefers acid soil but is adaptable.