Five Great Native Shrubs for Landscaping

Chokecherries are handsome shrubs that produce tart berries beloved by wildlife and humans alike. 

Once the huckleberries are gone, it seems people forget about wild berries. But just try and get a finicky huckleberry plant to grow in your yard and you will quickly develop an appreciation for other berry producing shrubs some of whose berries make wonderful jellies and syrups. 

There are a number of native berry producing shrubs that actually thrive in landscaped yards and shelterbelts and provide food for humans and wildlife alike. Over my career as a habitat biologist, I oversaw the planting of hundreds of thousands of native shrubs of dozens of varieties. I would often try a shrub in my own landscaping first just to see how it would perform. I found that there are some shrubs that perform well in the field but make poor landscape plants and vice versa. I have discovered that there are a handful of shrubs that not only work well in the landscape but also provide wildlife with excellent food and cover. Below are my top five.

1.       Chokecherry. Chokecherry comes in bush and tree form. I have both in my yard and they are by far the number one choice of berry eating birds like robins. A bush will grow as tall as 12-15 feet if you let it. Leave them plenty of room and they will provide prodigious amounts of tart red to black berries that make excellent syrup and jelly—if you can beat the birds to them. Leaves turn bright red in fall adding to the landscape.

2.       Serviceberry. The first time my daughter went to pick huckleberries, she and her husband came back with several bags stuffed with serviceberries. Indeed, the berry is dark blue but the blossom end looks like that of an apple. These grow very well in landscapes and can be shaped and trained into handsome specimens. The berries are best after they have been frosted once or twice and make good preserves. Serviceberries were one of the main ingredients in pemmican made by Native Americans. Most turn yellow in the fall.

3.       Highbush Cranberry. This is not really native to this area, but has performed well in my yard. Mine produce a fair quantity of red berries that seem to disappear quickly. It is a handsome large shrub with large bright green leaves that would make a fine specimen plant.

4.       Mountain Ash. True mountain ash is a native shrub that produces orange pithy berries in large clusters. Humans don’t find them palatable but birds love them. It has handsome pinnately divided leaves that turn red in autumn. There is also a tree form of ash, the European ash, that works well in yards and provides a lot of berries.

5.       Redosier Dogwood. This native shrub makes white berries that, while unpalatable to humans, are a real hit with birds and small mammals. It has red bark (some varieties have yellow bark) that provides winter interest and large clusters of white flowers in spring.  The leaves turn red-purple in autumn.

If you are thinking about changing up your landscaping or are landscaping a new area, consider these native shrubs. They not only add eye-catching interest, they will attract birds which bring a special color all their own. If you don’t know where to find these shrubs, start with the University of Idaho at: Then click on the 6th button down on the left: Center for Forestry Nursery and Seedling Research.

This is where I purchased most of my shrubs and while I have to be patient for the foot-tall shrubs to grow, I have had excellent success.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho