forsythia alternatives pt. 2: spicebush

lindera-fallIN CASE I FAILED TO CONVINCE YOU in earliest spring that you didn’t want a Forsythia, but a Lindera benzoin or spicebush instead, more evidence just presented itself. Now try to resist this native Eastern shrub, and tell me that your Forsythia measures up to its gold standard. Subtly good in spring, it’s fall’s runaway winner.

  1. robin says:

    hi margaret, I think I really want to plant a spicebush. I have a corner that’s part shady from mostly a cluster of maples, and part open, part sun, to the east, where the view (and light) opens up in winter. In your opinion, is it best to plant several, or just one?

    The area is completely new and unplanated, and am wondering about companions…is that a hydrangea to the left in the picture? Other suggestions?

    thanks so much for your inspiration.

  2. Ben says:

    Hamamelis vernalis, H. mollis (if you have space), or the more ‘refined’ x intermedia crosses. Great spring colour, heady fragrance and fall colour to boot! good form and structure in the branges.

    Other Hamamelidaceae plants offer some equally as great options;
    Fothergilla gardenii or F. major
    Any of the Corylopsis are also pretty awesome, though their fall colour tends to be more subtle that the above mentioned.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Ben. I keep meaning to add witch hazels to the garden; I had them decades ago but lost them to Bambi or ice storms or something bad. :) Thanks for your recommendations, and hope to see you here soon again.

  3. Maria says:

    Margaret-I just got 25 three foot tall “sticks” of LIndera benzoin from the Missouri Dept. of Conservation yesterday and am going to try and get them planted this weekend. I have 20 acres to play around with but would you suggest planting these shrubs in small groups….or in a row along a trail (a la hedge) or as single specimens in the woods? I have enough space to try all three but could really use some helpful info from someone who has actually grown one of these shrubs. Some say lindera is vase shaped, some say round, some say a slow grower, some say it’s fast, some say the shrub is dense…others say sparse. Errgh!!! How is one to plan with info like that? One thing everyone seems to agree on is that lindera is a beautiful plant that birds, insects and people all enjoy.

    Btw-I realized that you and I must be the same age when I read your book and you mentioned the Mirro aluminum electric skillet. Good grief! Why were our mothers so taken with those things???

    Love your blog too. :-)

    1. Margaret says:

      Haha, Maria, re: the Mirro skillet! As for the Lindera, they are wide (maybe 15 feet?) when mature, and maybe 10-12 feet tall. I grow them in the semi-shade in zone 5B, and they get that big if the soil isn’t dry. The dense/sparse/fast/slow will all depend on your conditions. In a nice soil, where there is even moisture and good humusy texture (not wet, but never bone dry) they are biggest and fastest here. In clayey or shallow soil they are slower, as if stunted. Makes sense.

  4. Maria says:

    Okay. That explains the width of your Lindera in your photo….I wasn’t sure if that was one shrub or a couple…now I know. Mine will be in semi-shade in what I think will be a perfect soil condition for them (humusy, never too dry….). I hope to have a forest full of swallowtails in the future. Thanks for getting back to me so fast because tomorrow I can get startedt planting. Woo hoo!

  5. Lewis crowell says:

    I just bought a 5′ spicebush to add to my small wildlife garden.
    Once I planted it I found it was dioecious!. Do I have to plant another male
    like you do for Ilex,, or can I get berries with just the one I bought.

    Lewis Crowell
    East Aurora, NY (Near Buffalo)
    Low zone 5 Soil: dense silt loam, somewhat poorly drained, acid.
    Time of planting 9/26/11

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Lewis, and yes — both male and female shrubs produce flowers (the male’s are showier) but only the female will get fruit, and only if a male is in the vicinity. I have a few plants around the place but I didn’t know about this issue of pollination until after the fact. The only way to tell the sexes apart is to shop during bloom time or better yet at fruit time, unless the nursery marks the plants (like holly growers do, clearly labeling pollinator males).

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