Native Shrubs for the Northeast
and Great Lakes Gardens

Shrubs of the Northeast may stretch north to the Canadian maritime provinces, west to the Great Lakes and south to northern Tennessee and Virginia and beyond.

Some species of bushes may differ with the landscape while others do well throughout the region.

The Northeast region consists of plains, ancient mountains, river basins, rocky outcropping, sandy beaches and much more.

The backyard meadow garden of the Northeast has trees and shrubs around the perimeters to offer sights for nesting, offer protection and food for wildlife.

Although landscaping serves an ornamental function attractive to the human eye, it also serves to attract various forms of wildlife.

There are many plants of ornamental value which also are attractive to song and game birds, as well as to other varieties of wildlife.

Native plant life of the northeast in your wildlife gardens will do just that.

As habitat continues to shrink, your wildlife gardens become more important.

Giant oaks, maples and White pine give way to birch and sassafras trees.

Trees give way to shrubs and so on.

Natives of the Northeast and Great Lakes in your Gardens offer important food sources for bees, birds, butterflies and their larvae. Nuts and berries feed rabbits, deer, fox and a host of critters.

Birds and animals deposit seeds elsewhere, spreading the species and helping wildlife and us.

spicebush in bloom early spring

In the early spring, Spicebush (Lindera benzion) bloom in a haze of yellow while.

The first bees of the season welcome these bloomers in your gardens.

Spicebush bears male and female flowers on separate plants.

To insure berries, have at least one male for every few female plants.

Native habitats include flood plains and woodland streams, however there are tidy shrubs in the wildlife garden, growing from three to 10 feet tall.

It does well in Zones 4 - 8 with filtered sun or partial shade.

Berries are a valuable food source for Wood thrush, veeries, quail, grouse, cardinals and other fruit eating birds.

Rabbits and deer may browse on the twigs and it is only one of two known plant species to host Spicebush swallowtail butterfly larvae ( the other is the sassafras tree).

Spicebush can be found growing wild throughout most of the Northeast and Southeast regions and are a favorite in any garden.

Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica):

Bayberry grows wild along sandy shores and dunes of the Great Lakes. Native shrubs of the northeast that thrive in dry conditions.

This bush also bloom on separate male and female plants. One male will take care of up to 10 females for berry crops. It is best to buy plants when they are fruiting so you can make proper choices.

A plant with four season attraction will grow to four feet and requires full sun.

Berries are a favorite of migrating trees swallows and fruit eating birds. Any remaining fruits are often taken care of in late winter by bluebirds and Yellow-rumped warblers.

Bayberry is a very hardy plant in Zones 2 - 7.

Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum),

the "wild blueberry".

Once again, the native range of these shrubs can be found throughout the Northeast and Great Lakes regions.

A favorite with several species of birds Black bears, chipmunks and other mammals.

Don't forget blueberry pies and preserves for us humans as well.

Highbush blueberry prefers a rich, moist acid, soil and are often found growing wild in bogs, swamps and wet grounds. They've been known to invade old pastures and drier fields.

They grow to 10 feet and need full sun but will do okay in partial shade, hardy from Zones 4 - 9

These shrubs are pollinated by a variety of bees and for a better crop, plant more then one bush.

Blueberries are desired by many fruit eating birds like Scarlet tanagers, bluebirds, cardinals, mockingbirds, catbirds and many other backyard birds.

bayberry fruits

Red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea)

and its cultivars are four season favorites to any wildlife garden.

Common plant life of the northeast that cover most of the United States and the lower portions of Canada are found wild growing along river banks and streams.

Red-twig dogwoods prefer moist acid soil but adapt well to gardens. Adding mulch can help retain moisture.

Spring blooms turn to creamy white berries in July and August. Like all dogwoods, these shrubs of the northeast are favorites of wildlife.

Small animals like the fruits as do several birds like robins, grosbeaks, Cedar waxwings, Wood thrush, Wood ducks and other berry eating birds.

Red-twig dogwoods also host larvae of the Blue spring azure butterfly.

These hardy plants of Zones 4 - 9, do best in full sun and moderate to high moisture. They should be pruned to keep color and shape.


Winterberry (Ilex verticillata):

Also called Michigan holly is a deciduous holly.

Like all members of the holly family, they need a male and female plant to produce berries on the female.

One male bush will service every three to five females.

These bushes of the northeast really come into their own in fall and winter when the clumps of red berries make it to the big show.

Native to the Eastern two-thirds of America and lower Canada, Winterberry can be found in swamps, marshes, river beds and coastal plains.

They are very adaptable to drier conditions and gardens, however.

Wild Winterberry can grow to 10 feet, but newer cultivars are shorter.

Plant in full to partial sun and provide moderate moisture.

Hardy from Zones 4 - 8.

In the winter, berries offer food for mockingbirds, robins, waxwings and other fruit eaters.

The foliage is on the menu for woolly bear caterpillars.

Highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum):

One of a large clan of native Viburnum's that make wonderful plantings in your northeast wildlife gardens.

A tall, arching plant that is found growing near woods edge and swamps. Highbush cranberry prefers moist, rich soil and is grows freely throughout the Northeast and Great Lakes region.

In May this viburnum is covered with white lace flowers and by fall the fruits turn a bright red and last through much of the winter.

Chipmunks and other small animals may eat your fruits.

Flocks of Cedar waxwings are known to strip bushes in a matter of minutes.

Highbush cranberry is hardy from Zones 4 - 6, does well in full sun to partial shade and requires moderate to high moisture.

These are native shrubs of the northeast woods and may struggle in hot humid conditions.

Other native viburnums include Blackhaw (V. prunifolium), Withe-rod (V. cassinoides) and possum haw (V. nudum). These plants offer fruits that turn a blackish-blue by mid to late summer.

Viburnum's are important host plants to butterfly larvae of the Spring azure and Henry's elfin. They also offer nectar for other butterflies and several different bees.

Cardinals, robins and other birds nest freely in your wildlife garden Viburnum as long as they are not disturbed.

Plant life in your northeast and Great Lakes gardens that serve many purposes is a good thing.

Serviceberry fruits

Serviceberry, Juneberry, Shadblow berry (Amelanchier spp.):

They are one in the same.

Different names for different parts of the region.

Serviceberry are bushes and small trees that thrive in open woods and woods edge.

They are found throughout much of the United States and lower Canada.

Hardy from Zones 3 - 9, they do best in moist acid soil and prefer partial shade. Serviceberry make an ideal under story shrub or small tree.

As fruits ripen in June, your wildlife gardens will come to life with birds and possibly mammals.

Serviceberry are a favorite for bear, turkeys as well as people (if you can get them first).

A major bird attractor, Serviceberry shrubs will attract bluebirds, robins, cardinals, catbirds, orioles and tanagers plus a host of other backyard birds.

Serviceberry offer fruits in June, when little else is fruiting.

This is a must plant if you have room.

Other shrubs to consider in your Northeast wildlife gardens can be:

Chokecherry (Aronia arbutifolia)

from Zones 4 - 9 grow to 8 feet and host caterpillars(foliage), feed birds and small mammals with the fruits.


Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)

from Zones 4 - 9. These shrubs are found growing wild near ditches and stream beds. Large clumps of fruits attract a variety of birds and make a great pie.

There are several natives of the northeast that grow throughout the region, be sure to check with local garden centers.

Remember, it is unlawful to dig these shrubs of the northeast from the wild without the land owner's permission.

Native shrubs of the northeast offer more of what native wildlife needs.

They also are more adaptable to the regions severe changes in weather and tolerate pests more so than exotic plants will.

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Planting shrubs of the northeast and Great Lakes region in your wildlife gardens will attract more birds and other wildlife.

I've lived in Michigan all my life, as a state certified nurseryman and wildlife habitat naturalist, I am happy to assist you in your wildlife gardens.

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