Bridget’s Native Tree Picks

Fall is upon us, and it is the perfect time to think about planting trees. Whether you are planting in the fall or planning for an early spring planting, choosing the right native species for the site is essential for the survival and vigor of the tree. Native trees are those that are indigenous to a certain area, have evolved in their local environment, and are adapted to the surrounding soils and climate. Native plants help improve water quality by slowing and infiltrating stormwater, provide habitat and biodiversity, reduce the urban heat island effect, and enhance the aesthetic value of our city centers and urban neighborhoods. To assist you in selecting trees, I have picked a few of my favorite native species that grow well in Central Kentucky:


Nyssa sylvatica

Photo 1-Blackgum FoliageBlackgum’s shiny foliage in the fall, distinct form in winter, and thick, plated bark make this tree an excellent choice for ornamental planting. This tree grows best in moist, well-drained soils, but can also withstand wet conditions and drought. Blackgum will grow in full sun or partial shade. Its leaves are dark green and glossy in the summer, and brilliant crimson, orange, and purple in the fall. Insignificant, greenish-white flowers in the spring are an exceptional nectar source for bees. Small, sour, bluish-black fruits ripen in the fall and attract many species of birds and mammals. Few insects or diseases affect this tree, making it low-maintenance in the landscape. Blackgum can reach a height of 80 feet on moist sites.

Eastern Hophornbeam

Ostrya virginiana

Photo 2-Eastern HophornbeamEastern hophornbeam’s rusty fall foliage, shredded bark, and distinct seeds make this tree a less showy but attractive choice for the landscape. This tree prefers moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soils, but can also adapt to wet, dry, rocky, poor, or alkaline soils. Eastern hophornbeam can grow in full sun or partial shade. Its simple leaves are delicate, and turn yellow to reddish orange in the fall. Male and female catkins are visible in the winter and spring, and the fruit, called nutlets, are distinct “hop-like” papery capsules. This tree has no serious insect or disease problems. Eastern hophornbeam can reach a height of 20-40 feet.

Alternate-leaf /Pagoda Dogwood

Cornus alternifolia

Alternate-leaf dogwood, also known as Pagoda dogwood, is an excellent alternative to the commonly planted flowering dogwood tree. Its whorled horizontal branches, showy flowers, late-summer berries, and vibrant fall foliage make this tree an eye-catching specimen. This tree prefers moist, slightly acidic, well-drained soils. Alternate-leaf dogwood grows best in considerable shade, but can also grow well in full sun. Unlike other native dogwoods, the leaves grow in an alternate, rather than opposite arrangement. Fall foliage, though not brilliant, turns red, purple, and yellow. In late spring, cream-colored, showy, broad, fragrant flower clusters attract many pollinators. In late summer, bluish-black fruit are born on red stalks and attract birds. This tree is susceptible to twig blight, leaf spot and canker, but these diseases are generally not lethal. Alternate-leaf dogwood can reach a height of 15-25 feet.

Photo Credits:
1- Blackgum foliage- U.S. National Arboretum
2- Eastern hophornbeam foliage- Melissa McMasters
3- Alternate-leaf dogwood flower- Distant Hill Gardens

Rain Garden Natives: Kara’s Picks

Picture courtesy of Michler’s Garden Center
Picture courtesy of Michler’s Garden Center

Folks around Central Kentucky often ask me which plants are appropriate for a rain garden. Rain garden soil conditions can vary from wet to dry, making them tough places for many plants to grow. The plants chosen for rain gardens are adapted to these conditions and typically have extensive roots that help pull water into the ground, which can help reduce stormwater runoff.

To help you get started on your rain garden, I’ve picked out a few of my favorite Kentucky natives that really thrive in moist or well-drained soils.

Eupatorium maculatum – Joe Pye Weed

15638101339_214e2973a3_o A Butterfly Magnet, the extravagant Joe Pye Weed is crowned with clusters of bright pink flowers in late summer. Eupatorium maculatum is perfect for planting in damp soil in marshy areas, along streambanks, and on pond edges. Joe Pye Weed (also called Spotted Joe Pye Weed) also thrives in rich garden soil. If you love Joe Pye but have too much shade, try Sweet Joe Pye Weed.


Monarda didyma – Bee Balm

22222 A pollinator favorite, Beebalm’s red bloom makes it especially attractive to hummingbirds. One of only a few red-flowered natives, it holds a special place in the mid-summer color scheme. Native to the Appalachian Mountains, Monarda didyma will grow well in zones 4 – 7. Does best in a rich soil with a good organic matter content to provide moisture during the heat of summer. Also known as Oswego Tea, American Beebalm or Scarlet Beebalm.


Chelome obliqua – Turtle Head

1111 Turtleheads are native wildflowers that adapt beautifully to garden conditions. In this species, plants form an upright, bushy mound of green foliage, bearing upright stems of large bright-pink hooded flowers beginning in late summer. Best in a moist or wet site, this also adapts well to average border conditions. Terrific at the waterside. Excellent for cutting. Showy and long lived. Attractive to butterflies. Plants are easily divided in spring.

If you would like to learn more about rain garden and apply for a $250 grant to build a rain garden at your own home check out our web page or register for a workshop!