As I watched one of our rare winter snowfalls today, my mind wandered to thoughts of the upcoming spring season. Sooner or later the ground always thaws bringing about a great time of year to add new plants to the landscape. As writer and poet Margaret Atwood said, “in the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt”.   

If buckthorn removal has left sparse areas in your woodland, consider planting native woodland plants in place of the thickets of buckthorn that were removed. Some wonderful native woodland plants that would make great replacement plants for buckthorn are listed below. Be sure to click on the last bullet to link to a buckthorn PDF on the Department of Natural Resource’s website. Page four of their publication has seven native plant choices in addition to mine along with photos of each plant. Their publication includes one of my favorite buckthorn replacement plants – nannyberry.

    Black cherry (Prunus serotina)
    Red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea)
    Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.)
    American elderberry/Red-berried elder (Sambucus nigra/Sambucus racemosa)
    American hazelnut (Corylus americana)
    Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana) 
    Minnesota DNR website link:

Bringing Nature Home,written by author Douglas Tallamy, tells of the enormous benefit native plants provide to wildlife species as compared to alien plant species. Plants such as black cherry, choke-cherry and American wild plum are members of a plant genus that support an estimated 456 moths and butterflies! That doesn’t include the additional benefit to birds and mammals. Now consider the gingko tree I planted in my yard two years ago. Perhaps an interesting specimen tree and a nice place for a bird’s nest but no food source for wildlife. Though I correctly planted and cared for the new tree it didn’t survive. Maybe its demise was nature’s way of telling me “you can do better than that – go native”. 

Blossoming Nannyberry
Blossoming Nannyberry

My own observations last summer confirmed Tallamy’s data. Butterflies, insects and birds were abundant in areas that contained a variety of native plant species. This was sharply contrasted by the “dead zone” that existed in areas with little to no native plant species. If you are going to smell like dirt at the end of the day this spring, let it be because you chose to plant native plant species as replacement plants for your buckthorn. Go native!!

Cheryl Jirik
Landscape Restoration, Inc.


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