Native Alternatives to Mid-Century Garden Plants

Last time we talked about the importance of making space in our gardens for native plants. I hope you are excited to help connect your landscape with our local biome! Bees and butterflies will thank you, as well as many other important beneficial insects, birds, and so on.

Today I want to refer to many old-fashioned garden plants, such as Japanese barberry and European Norway maple, and what you could use as a native alternative – both for aesthetics as well as functionality. The below plants are usually in stock at the nursery, and if they are sold out, can usually be ordered on the next plant shipment. Unlike many nurseries, we bring in new plant shipments through the summer and into the fall, so our customers are always able to have a good selection!

If you weren’t able to check the last blog “Re-imagine Gardening with Natives!”, go here:



Kodiak® Orange Bush Honeysuckle

• Traditional Landscape Plant: Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii)

✔ Native Alternative: Dwarf ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius). The dwarf cultivars of ninebark are just as tough when it comes to sun and heat, and likewise come in reds, purples, and golds. Even better is that they have a showier flower that is enjoyed by pollinators. Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera), likewise very durable, comes in several leaf colors too.


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Spirea (Spirea sp. and hybrids)

✔ Native Alternative: Dwarf ninebark (P. opulifolius), Bush Honeysuckle (D. lonicera), fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica, such as ‘Low Grow’) are durable, tough, and just as low maintenance as spirea. A small chokeberry such as ‘Lowscape Mound’ (Aronia melanocarpa) will also work.


Coppertina® Ninebark

• Traditional Landscape Plant: Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus ‘Compacta’). There are a lot of native alternatives to burning bush. Some people enjoy this plant because of the rich red fall color. Others like to use it simply for a foundational plant or as a larger background screen. I’ve listed both alternatives.

✔ Native Alternative for Excellent Red Fall Color: Possumhaw Viburnum (Viburnum nudum), Arrowwood viburnum (V. dentatum), Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), Black Chokeberry (A. melanocarpa), Itea (Itea virginica) and Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) – yes you can use a blueberry as an ornamental! These plants also hold their fall color longer than burning bush, especially Itea which sometimes holds its red fall color into December.

✔ Native Alternative for a foundation plant or screening plant: Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), Black Chokeberry (A. melanocarpa) Northern bayberry (Myrica pennsylvanica), Northern Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), larger cultivar of Clethra (Clethra alnifolia) such as ‘Ruby Spice’,


Low Scape Mound® Chokeberry

• Traditional Landscape Plant: Privet (Ligustrum sp.)

✔ Native Alternative: Northern Bayberry (M. Pennsylvanica), Possumhaw viburnum (V. nudum), Arrowood viburnum (V. dentatum), larger cultivar of Clethra (Clethra alnifolia) such as ‘Ruby Spice’. These can all create a border or privacy hedge like privet. Consider selective pruning as opposed to shearing for a natural look.


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)

✔ Native Alternative: Clethra (Clethra alnifolia), Itea (Itea virginica), Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Goldenrod (Solidago sp.), Milkweed (Asclepias sp.), Gayfeather (Liatris spicata), Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata), Ironweed (Vernonia sp.)

Vanilla Spice® Clethra


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)

✔ Native Alternative: Hardy hibiscus or Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). Proven Winners has many nativars of hardy hibiscus, as do other plant breeders.


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Tricolor willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki). Although beautiful, many people request these because they have a wet area in the landscape.

✔ Native Alternative for wet soils: Pussywillow (Salix discolor), Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Itea (Itea virginica), Clethra (C. alnifolia). Buttonbush and Itea both have large and dwarf cultivars.

Little Henry® Itea


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Bigleaf Hydrangea (H. macrophylla)

✔ Native Alternative: Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens). Sorry, no blue flowers, but this species comes in wonderful whites, pinks, and greens.

Invincibelle® Ruby Smooth Hydrangea


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Weigela (Weigela florida)

✔ Native Alternative: Bush Honeysuckle (D. lonicera) for colorful foliage and flowers. Ninebark (P. opulifolius) for flowers, colorful foliage and arching habit. Itea (I. virginica) for flowers, fall color, and arching habit, Coralberry or Snowberry for arching/cascading habit (Symphoricarpos orbiculatas, S. albus)


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Boxwood (Buxus sp.)

✔ Native Alternative: Inkberry holly (Ilex glabra) for evergreen foliage. Winterberry holly (I. verticillata) is deciduous but provides outstanding winter interest

Proud Berry® Coral Berry


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Rhododendron (Rhododendron sp. and hybrids)

✔ Native Alternative: American rhododendron (R. maximum), Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia)


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Spreading Juniper cultivars (Juniperus x pfitzeriana)

✔ Native Alternative: Eastern Juniper (J. virginiana) such as ‘Grey Owl’, Aromatic sumac (Rhus glabra) such as ‘Low Grow’, Low growing Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) such as ‘Ground Hog’ or ‘Lowscape Mound’, Kinnikinnick (Arctostyphalos uva-ursi)

Strongbox® Inkberry holly





• Traditional Landscape Plant: Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) such as ‘Crimson King’

✔ Native Alternative: Red Maple (A. rubrum), Sugar Maple (A. saccharum), American sycamore (Platanus occientalis) and Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) are all large trees with large, attractive foliage. Canada Red Chokeherry (Prunus virginiana ‘Canada Red’) has purple foliage.


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa)

✔ Native Alternative: Flowering Dogwood (C. florida). Site in part-shade, please!

Summerific® ‘Ballet Slippers’ Hibiscus


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Pyramidal or Columnar European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)

✔ Native Alternative: American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Flowering Ornamental Trees such as Japanese Cherry (Prunus subhirtella, P. serrulata), Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana), and Nonnative Flowering Crabapple (Malus sp.)

‘Pardon My Purple’ Bee Balm

✔ Native Alternative: Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), Hawthorne (Crataegus crus-galli, C. viridis), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)



• Traditional Landscape Plant: Callery Pear (often ‘Cleveland Select’ for elliptical shape)

✔ Native Alternative: Columnar Red Maple cultivar of which there are several, such as ‘Red Rocket’ (Acer rubrum), Columnar Pin Oak such as ‘Green Pillar’ (Quercus palustris), Columnar Sweetgum such as ‘Slender Silhouette’ (Liquidambar styraciflua), Columnar American Hornbeam such as ‘Autumn Fire’ and ‘Fire Spire’ (Carpinus caroliniana). Columnar Tulip tree such as ‘Arnold Sentinel’ (Liriodendron tulipifera) if larger size is permissible.


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Japanese maple (Acer palmatum). I realize there is not perfect alternative for such a unique, decorative tree. But in thinking outside the box, this is what I have.

✔ Native Alternative: Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) has “laceleaf-like” cultivars that can substitute for a cascading Japanese maple. Coralberry (Symphoricarpus orbiculatus) has a graceful weeping habit, similar to a cascading Japanese maple. Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a dainty, small upright tree with attractive branching like an upright Japanese maple. Witchhazel has attractive foliage and stunning fall color; the unique fall bloom is a plus. Canada Red Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana ‘Canada Red’) is an upright tree with purple foliage, similar in size and color to ‘Bloodgood’ and ‘Emperor’ Japanese maples.

Lemony Lace® Elderberry


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Weeping Cherry (Prunus subhirtella)

✔ Native Alternative: Weeping Redbud (Cercis canadensis, multiple cultivars), Weeping Pussy W

Berry Poppins® Winterberry

illow (Salix discolor ‘Pendula’) Weeping Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula), Weeping White Pine (Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’)


• Traditional Landscape Plant: European Beech (Fagus sylvatica)

✔ Native Alternative: American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Norway Spruce (Picea abies), Blue Spruce (Picea pungens), and Serbian Spruce (Picea omorika) are used as large evergreens for privacy.

✔ Native Alternative: Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus), Red Oak (Quercus. rubra) retains dried foliage through winter still providing privacy


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica), which is utilized as a large tree for a wet area

✔ Native Alternative: Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica), Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), , Pin Oak (Quercus palustris), Swamp White Oak (Q. bicolor), Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera). Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is also a possibility.

Blue Muffin® Arrowwood Viburnum


Brandywine™ Possumhaw Viburnum

• Traditional Landscape Plant: Early blooming or Southern magnolia (Magnolia sp. and hybdrids)

✔ Native Alternative: Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii) for white bark

✔ Native Alternative: Paper birch (B. papyrifera), Quaking aspen (Populus tremulodies)




Prairie Winds® ‘Apache Rose’ Switch Grass

• Traditional Landscape Plant: Maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis) such as “Zebra Grass”

✔ Native Alternative: Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum) which hosts many cultivars


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)

✔ Native Alternative: Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis)


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca)

✔ Native Alternative: Little Blue Stem (Schizachyrium scoparium)




• Traditional Landscape Plant: Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), Catmint (Nepeta sp.), and Salvia (Salvia sp.)

‘Leading Lady Orchid’ Bee Balm

✔ Native Alternative: Bee balm (Monarda didyma, M. fistulosa), Mountainmint (Pyrecanthemum sp.), Lyreleaf Salvia (Salvia lyrata), Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum)


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Astilbe (Astilbe chinensis)

✔ Native Alternative: Goatsbeard (Aruncus doicus), Black Bugbane (Actaea racemosa)


Decadence® ‘Lemon Meringue’ Baptisia

• Traditional Landscape Plant: Lupine (Lupinus sp.) and Delphinium (Delphinium sp.)

✔ Native Alternative: False Indigo (Baptisia australis), Perennial lobelia (Lobelia cardinalis, L. siphilitica), Gayfeather (Liatris spicata)


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Old Fasioned Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis)

✔ Native Alternative: Eastern bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia)


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Coral Bells (Heuchera sp.)

✔ Native Alternative: Foam Flower (Tiarella cordifolia)

‘Little Goldstar’ Black-Eyed Susan is a dwarf cultivar of a classy native


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Bearded Iris (Iris sp.)

✔ Native Alternative: Dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata), Blue Flag Iris (I. versicolor), Gayfeather (Liastris spicata)


• Traditional Landscape Plant: Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum sp.)

✔ Native Alternative: Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia sp.), Sneezeweed (Helenium sp.), Fall Aster (Symphyotrichum sp.)




• Traditional Landscape Plant: Chinese and Japanese wisteria (Wisteria chinensis, W. floribunda)

✔ Native Alternative: American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens)




Bunchberry, or Creeping Dogwood

• Traditional Landscape Plant: Japanese Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis), Myrtle (Vinca minor), and Ivy (Hedera helix)

✔ Native Alternative: Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) and kinnikinnick (Arctostyphalos uva-ursi) are evergreen.

✔ Native Alternative: Allegheny Pachysandra (Pachysandra procumbens) and Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata) are semi-evergreen.

✔ Native Alternative: Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) which is a groundcover dogwood, Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricate), and Canadian Ginger (Asarum candense) are deciduous groundcovers but have much to offer during the warmer months.

Winterberry display outside Phipps Conservatory. Nov. 2019.


At Plumline, we hope to inspire and excite you to garden. Gardening can be both “low maintenance” and enjoyable. Installing the plant material itself might be some work but the enjoyment that comes from it makes it all worth it!  I find this especially true with native plants because while they provide beauty for our pleasure, they serve a purpose bigger than ourselves. Planting native plants is a way we can help the environment. Kermit the Frog is famous for saying “It isn’t easy being green” but if you can acquire the interest in planting natives, it’s smooth sailing from there!

As I mentioned in prior blog posts, come on in with a sketch or some pictures of your landscape and we’ll help you from there! Hope to see you out this summer! Don’t forget to water your plants in this heat!

Photos provided by Proven Winners and Perennial Farm.