For wildlife gardeners — including those who want to support pollinators — certain plants promise a bigger payoff.
Shrubs are one category of plant that often deliver more rewards for less effort. They are larger than a perennial and can produce many more blooms per plant. Since they are woody, they need not be cut back every year like many perennials. (That is, if they are planted in a site where they are allowed to take their natural shape and size.)
Another category of plants with a bigger proportional payoff is the earliest bloomers. They provide much-needed nectar to the newly emerging insects, and much-needed protein (i.e. insects) to newly arrived migrant birds.
The real powerhouses, then, are the plants that merge both of these categories: the earliest-blooming shrubs. Depending on your location and the size of your garden, think of wild plum (Prunus americana), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), winter hazel (Corylopsis varieties), bush cherry (Prunus tomentosa), cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), serviceberry (Amelanchier varieties), clove currant (Ribes aureum), willow-leaf spiraea (Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’), Chinese paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha), and pussy willow (Salix varieties), among others.
Early-flowering shrubs put on a show when little else is showing, so they get more than their share of attention and appreciation — not only from people, but from insects looking for nectar and birds looking for insects. There’s a huge payoff in adding them to your garden.