It baffles me why landscape professionals (architects, designers and gardeners) don’t take advantage of early successional, or pioneer trees and shrubs for yards. (A quick definition of Succession.) Early successional plants are usually the first ones to move in after a disturbance (fire, wind, flooding, agriculture, logging or building a house).
Why are they an obvious choice for yards? They like sunlight, tolerate poor soils, grow quickly and can stand a variety of conditions. Part of their role is to build the soil for future forest stages, which is a good thing in a new development where the topsoil was stripped. They also have interesting or attractive bark, foliage, and flowers. They tend to attract wildlife with their seeds, because they must travel so far afield to colonize freshly disturbed areas. Finally, deer tend to avoid eating pioneer trees and shrubs.
We have already mentioned some early successional plants in the conifer section. Virginia Pine, White Pine, and Eastern Red-cedar are some early successional species that are great in yards.
Other pioneers that we will consider in more depth in future posts are Sassafras, Birch, Aspen, Willow, etc. These are the species that would come in naturally if you did nothing in your yard. So, listen to nature and your yard will be happier.