Things are super busy in my garden this week. I haven’t been out there doing anything. Hey, it’s cold and damp and… well… I have work to do. But I can hear all the activity. Things are super busy in my garden this week. I haven’t been out there doing anything. Hey, it’s cold and damp and… well… I have work to do. But I can hear all the activity.
There are still a couple of bees flitting about. There’s not much of a selection for them, since we’ve had our first frost, but they persevere.
The rabbits are slowing down, but this fella wanted to let me know that I was slacking off and he would like a snack, please. I’ll see what I can do.
It’s the birds that are making the most ruckus. Everything from crows to chickadees have settled down in my backyard. I have not yet put out the feeders, but there are plenty of treats in plain sight.
I learned a new phrase this week – spinach plants. I’m not talking about the leafy green ones. The National Wildlife Federation used the term to refer to berry plants that are nutritious for birds, but not necessarily their first choice for snacking. It seems humans and birds share a love of junk food. Birds will go for things like flowering dogwood and sunflower seeds, which have the high fat content needed when they are bulking up for winter, while leaving the berries of native trees untasted, like a side of spinach. Maybe they are smarter than we think. The berries on hollies and hawthorns will persist throughout winter.
Perhaps the birds are just saving them for when the snow has covered everything else and the pickings are slim.
Or maybe they prefer to have their berries softened up a bit, by a few frosts and thaws. Whatever their reason, many of the native berries are the last to be touched, like cold, over-cooked spinach. They are also lifesavers, when the darkest days of winter set in.
So if you want to reward your birds for doing such an excellent job of pest petrol in the garden during the growing season, consider planting some of these bird berries and leaving them standing throughout the winter.
Holly (Ilex sp.): The winterberry hollies (Ilex verticillata) are deciduous and you can get a clear view of just how many berries one bush can set. The evergreen hollies do double duty by providing both cover and food. You used to need both a male and a female plant to get holly berries, but some of the newer plants, like Foster holly (Ilex x attenuata “Fosteri”), have females that can self-pollinate. They are also selling plants that are really 2 plants grafted together, a male and a female, to save space. But you don’t need to have your hollies in particularly close proximity. Bees love their bright, little flowers that are nectar and pollen rich – and fragrant! They will gladly fly by and pollinate them for you. And for the birds to have a late winter feast.
Sumac (Rhus sp.): Sumacs don’t get much respect in the gardening world, but their native range covers a large distance. There are 15 native species in North America alone. Those showy red plumes on staghorn sumacs Rhus typhina) hold densely nutritious seeds for birds.
Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana): Gardeners love American Beautyberry for its rows of shiny, clustered purple fruits. You don’t often see them covered with feeding birds, but the berries will be completely gone before days are noticeably longer. Beautyberry is a favorite of mocking birds.
Viburnum: Another shrub with long persisting berries is the Viburnum. The highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) is but one of the many native viburnums that are very easy to grow and very ornamental in the garden. You get lacy, flattened white flowers in early summer, red fall color and clusters of cherry-like berries, or drupes, that hang on through early winter, until the birds get curious.
Juniper (Juniperus): As evergreen, junipers provide cover as well as berries. Not all birds love them, but when choices are narrowed, these nutrient dense berries will be very welcome sights. And there are not leaves to rake up in the fall.
- ’Tis the Season for Birds and Berries (The National Wildlife Federation)
- The Best Trees, Vines, and Shrubs to Plant for Birds: a Starter List (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
Berries for Birds (Birds & Blooms)