Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Wildflower Wednesday: Trees and Shrubs in a Native Habitat

It's October and Nashville is in a moderate to severe drought. The blue wood and white frost asters are still blooming and the shrubs and trees are showing color deeper and sooner than usual. I've been watering to insure that the impossible to replace 50, 60 and 70 year old trees have a chance to survive until rain returns. They've been soldiering on and they all deserve to be Wildflower Wednesday stars and so they are!

Hydrangeas, Hamamelis and Hickories above the wildflowers

Back when I was a new gardener, I often thought of shrubs and trees as incidental in a garden. They were mere supporting players to my beloved wildflowers. As my knowledge about how important native plants were to critters grew, my definition of what made a garden plant valuable changed. A pretty flowered face was no longer enough to allow admittance to my garden, plants needed to have wildlife value.

Native wisteria welcomes visitors

Native trees and shrubs are more than mere supporting players. They are in fact the be-alls and end-alls for our garden critters. In the drama of a native habitat there are no bit players. The canopy, the understory, the herbacious layer and the ground cover are all part of a diverse ensemble. All the players are essential; all provide food, nesting and shelter for mammals and birds; they're host plants for a variety of insects that are a primary food source for birds, bats, small mammals, amphibians and even other insects that you want in your garden. They are the ecological basis upon which life depends. That means everything ...including us.

Bur oak/Quercus macrocarpa and Serviceberry/Amelanchier

We moved here 35 or so years ago I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to have so many native trees. I appreciate them now more than ever. I've written about some of them and you can follow their links to learn more. Some trees have links to nature sites.




Back when we bought this house there were lovely canopy trees but there wasn’t an understory shrub to be seen and my beloved blue wood asters and other natives were hidden from me on the far edges of the yard.

Euonymus americanus/Hearts a bustin

It took time and a lot of research but, I figured out that my garden is a Central Basin woodland with dryer, heavier and more neutral soil. Natives really made sense. I began to plant the ones that could take my garden conditions. Even some that could happily grow in containers, because, when I say there's shallow soil, I am not kidding.

Rhus aromatica

spicebush/Lindera benzoin
After dozens of years of tweaking and experimenting, I think that there is a pretty good balance of canopy trees, understory trees and shrubs that thrive along with the wildflowers in the shallow clay soil that is dry during the summer and wet during the winter. In many cases there are multiples, because more of a beautiful and ecologically helpful shrub made sense. Most of the shrubs have multi-season interest and some have seeds/berries that last long into winter.

Hydrangea arborescens and Vernal witchhazel

Rusty Blackhaw/Viburnum rufidulum

Aronia/Photinia arbutifolia

My husband, Michael, aka, Mr No I Don't Garden, likes to ask me how many plants I have planted. I have no idea! I do know that this post doesn't begin to include all of them. Nor does it include all the trees that were here.

Rhus glabra

Planting natives that make sense for your garden conditions will mean that your essential players might be different from mine. Why natives? Because they are absolutely the be-alls and end-alls if you want to garden for wildlife and that's what my garden is all about. It doesn't hurt that they are all darn good looking for most of the year.

Happy Wildflower Wednesday.


Welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not, and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave your link/url with a comment.

Don't forget our Wildflower Wednesday monthly challenge!  The first part of this challenge is to do something every month during 2022 that supports native wildflowers, pollinators, and the critters that visit and rely on our gardens. The second part of the challenge is to post about it somewhere: Your blog, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or even your neighborhood listserve. 

Why post it?  Because positive publicity is needed to educate our friends, neighbors and communities about how important even the smallest changes we make as gardeners can be for pollinators, birds, insects and mammals that live all around us. 

An incomplete list of things you might consider doing or changing in your garden

Shrink your lawn and make your planting beds larger.

Plant your favorite native perennials and shrubs. Leave them standing after they've gone to seed to continue to provide for wildlife. What you plant in your yard makes a difference to wildlife. I garden for wildlife so every tree, shrub and plant is chosen with wildlife in mind.

Plant more natives and then consider planting even more. "A typical suburban landscape contains only 20-30% native plant species. Try reversing that trend in your own landscape by using 70-80% native species." (source

Commit to never, ever, ever, ever using pesticides in the garden.

Stay away from native plant hybrids and cultivars that are double flowered. They are sterile and have no pollen or nectar for insects and no seeds for the birds. If possible plant “true open-pollinated native wildflowers”

If you want to garden for wildlife and pollinators, don't let lack of space stop you! Plant your favorite wildflowers in large containers. You just might have the prairie or woodland garden you've always wanted...in a pot!
Create a water feature. Provide water year round that is accessible to birds, bees and other critters.

Show some soil! Our native ground nesting bees nest in bare soil, so don't mulch every square inch of your garden. 

Invite bugs into your garden. Plant annuals that attract beneficial bugs.

Learn to tolerate damaged plants. Imperfection is the new perfect.

Don't be in a rush to clean up the fall garden. Leave plant stalks and seed heads standing all winter. Leave those fallen leaves or as many as you can tolerate! Insects over winter in the fallen and decaying leaves.

Leave a layer of leaves as a soft landing material under trees for moths and butterflies to over winter. Many caterpillars drop to the ground from the trees in the fall.

Make a brush pile. Stack fallen brush, cut tree limbs, broken pots for ground beetles. Ground beetles are excellent at eating "bad bugs'. They're also good bird, toad and small critter food. 

Rethink what you consider a pest. Lots of good bugs eat aphids. Spiders are important predators and bird food!

Add nesting boxes for birds.

Plant shrubs and small trees that provide berries and nuts.

Keep a nature journal: Observe visitors to the water feature, make note of when they visit. Notice which flowers attract the most pollinators and which ones are just pretty faces. 

Volunteer to remove invasives in a local part or natural area.

Join your state native plant society.

Join WildOnes even if there's no local group.

Take an online course on tree, fungi and wildflower id.

Take a walk in your neighborhood and observe nature. To quote Joanna Brichetto in Sidewalk Nature "Look Around. Nature is here, is us, our driveways, our baseboards, parks, and parking lots."

Buy the best wildflower, butterfly and bird id books for your state.

Read nature books to your children and grandchildren. 

Read! There are hundreds of books on gardening for wildlife, the environment, and rewilding our world. There are delightful blogs with wonderful and informative articles.

Turn off your porch lights, eave lights and uplights to help mammals,  birds, critters that live in the dark survive.

If you live in Nashville join the Facebook ReWild Nashville Group and the Middle Tennessee WildOnes

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. Happy Wildflower Wednesday, Gail! Your garden looks amazing despite the drought. I hope you'll get some needed rain soon.

  2. Thank you. It's my goal to turn my yards natural. I'm already zero chemicals, but I need more natives ๐Ÿ’š๐Ÿงก๐Ÿ’›๐Ÿงก๐Ÿ’š

    1. A wonderful goal. I wonder if friends have plants and or seeds they can share.

  3. My goodness, that was one of my favorites of your posts. I enjoyed being a more wide angle view of your gorgeous native garden. What a sight it is in the fall!

  4. What magnificent autumn colour. And in your own garden!!


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson