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help with native shrubs for wet areas

Posted by macarius Z6 CT (My Page) on
Sun, Mar 16, 08 at 14:55

i would like to plant a shrub border on a 3 to 4 foot deep slope/swale next to a small intermittent stream. The soil would have good drainage because of the slope, but it is an acidic, clay/silt soil with average fertility. The swale might flood once or twice a year after a lot of rain as the stream overflows. The area gets full sun. i'm thinking of planting the following:

Sambucus canadensis
Viburnum trilobum
Aronia arbutifolia
Aronia melanocarpa
Ilex verticillata
Lindera benzoin
Cephalanthus occidentalis
Hibiscus moscheutos

Will they do well in these kinds of conditions? i'm also hoping that i can keep them relatively small - ideally 5 feet tall. Can they be pruned to this size without sacrificing flowering/fruiting? i know some of these can get really big and will sucker. i am also planning to use these other smaller shrubs in the border:

Rosa virginiana
Clethra alnifolia
Myrica gale
Kalmia angustifolia

Anyone have experience with any of these? Thanks for your help.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: help with native shrubs for wet areas

Certainly the first group can handle moist/wet conditions. Not sure about keeping them 5 feet. Many of these provide good berries for native birds but in order to keep them smaller and still flower, you'd have to prune them after flowering which would prevent fruit formation. Perhaps pruning them in cycles would help (one shrub one year then a different one the next, then the next). Coppicing might be an option.

Here is a link that might be useful: Coppicing


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RE: help with native shrubs for wet areas

These are excellent choices for your streamside. However, Aronia melanocarpa isn't really a wetland shrub -- I would recommend planting it well above the stream. Also, I'm not sure about the wet tolerance of Rosa virginiana. You could consider Rosa palustris instead -- though it is larger than virginiana. Another idea: Rhododendron viscosum, which doesn't offer berries, but it's beautiful and fragrant.

As for pruning, some shrubs can be kept smaller if, every year, you cut out a few of the oldest and tallest stems. This works with Ilex verticillata, for example, and I suspect it would also work for the Aronia, Cephalanthus, and Viburnum. The Sambuccus will, I think, be hard to keep down to 5 feet, because it wants to be a good deal larger, and it's fast-growing.

You could also choose cultivars that will stay small. Dwarf cultivars exist for Aronia arbutifolia, Ilex verticillata, and Viburnum trilobum (I think). The disadvantage, of course, is reduced genetic diversity.


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RE: help with native shrubs for wet areas

Esh_ga, Janet, thanks for the responses.

Esh, i was hoping that i might be able to prune a little from each shrub every year - removing some of the taller, older growth to the ground and hoping that new shoots would appear that year. i guess that's like coppicing except that i wasn't thinking of taking all growth to the ground. Will these shrubs put out 8 or more feet of growth in a single growing season in the northeast US?

Janet, i am planning to use dwarfish cultivars if i can find them, like I. verticillata 'Red Sprite' and V. trilobum 'Compactum'. i also like R. viscosum but thought it might not do well in clay/silt soil in full sun. i really wish there were more cultivars of these shrubs to choose from.

Thanks for your help.


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RE: help with native shrubs for wet areas

marcarius, I think that approach is worth a try.


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RE: help with native shrubs for wet areas

Just anecdotally speaking, I normally observe lindera benzoin in not particularly wet areas but since your area will only be intermittently flooded I bet it will work. Sambucus volunteers in my wet areas. Red osier dogwood and silky dogwood are possibilities in wet areas. Various willow species (salix species) should like it wet and can probably handle a hard pruning. A year or two ago I planted some Ilex Verticillata in an area that is almost constantly wet and they are still alive. Not sure about your height requirements although I do remember there is a dwarf version of the red osier dogwood that is commercially available.


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RE: help with native shrubs for wet areas

Bob, thanks for the response. i'm leaning towards giving these shrubs a try and see how they do with different pruning strategies to keep them somewhat manageable. i had originally thought that if i don't like them or they don't work well, i can shovel prune them and insert something different. But now, i'm wondering what i'll do if they do too well and i can't keep them under some control. i'll check out the salix and cornus too. Thanks.


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RE: help with native shrubs for wet areas

You might be able to root the willow and dogwood cuttings for future plantings or to give to like-minded friends. My willows are from dormant stakes that I purchased commercially and then hammered into the soil. A few companies sell such things as "bioengineering" materials.


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