Trees and Shrubs
Fine Line buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula)
While common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) is invasive and spreads aggressively in the Iowa landscape, Rhamnus frangula is an almost-sterile buckthorn. It was introduced several years ago, but “people still don’t know that much about it,” says Kovarik, who calls it a K&K favorite.
“It’s absolutely wonderful in full shade, and you can use it in a container,” he says. “I’m using it to replace ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitae, which has a lot of deer issues. It has fine-leaf foliage like no other plant, and it holds on to those leaves very late in the fall, then turns yellow. It gets very cold before it drops its leaves.” Photo courtesy Bailey Nurseries.
Fine Line buckthorn
5 to 7 feet tall, 2 feet wide
Sun or shade
‘Tor’ birchleaf spirea (Spiraea betulifolia ‘Tor’)
With spectacular fall color and a petite growth habit that never needs pruning, ‘Tor’ birchleaf spirea (top) is “unlike any other spirea,” says Kovarik. “I guarantee you’ll be happy with it.”
Don’t grow it for the tight clusters of white flowers; grow it as a low-maintenance landscape plant, he advises. “It turns brilliant red in fall, and it’s much showier than burning bush. It’s very bright red, just gorgeous.” Gardeners seeking a replacement for the suspect burning bush — which has been placed on the watch list as a possible invasive — might consider ‘Tor’. Photo courtesy Bailey Nurseries.
3 to 4 feet tall and wide
Solar Eclipse redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘JN3’)
“It stopped me in my tracks,” remembers Hancock of his first encounter with this variegated redbud. The new leaves emerge tangerine-orange, then fade to chartreuse before turning lime green. “That’s cool, but what makes it really fun is that each leaf has an irregular green edge,” says Hancock. “Like other redbuds, it has pink flowers in spring, though with leaves like that, who needs flowers?” Photo courtey Greenleaf Nursery.
12 feet tall and wide
Sun to partial shade