Monday, December 12, 2011

Giving Back to the Birds - Native Berry-Producing Shrubs

As you can see from my last few posts, I am on a berry binge. I am completely enamored with berry-producing trees and shrubs. I love the idea of providing plants that will feed birds through winter. We have taken so much habitat from our local wildlife, it would be great to give some back. And it just happens that due to some construction on my house, I had to rip out a perennial garden and plan to replant the area with native berry-producing shrubs in the spring. It's a perfect location for watching birds either from inside the house or on the deck, so I want plants that will initiate a birdy feeding frenzy. There are so many great choices available - how to choose?

Aronia arbutifolia (Red Chokeberry)
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My first choice was Aronia arbutifolia (Red Chokeberry), but I am reading conflicting information about its usefulness to birds. Some sources say it is very attractive to birds, some say birds won't touch it, and some say they will eat it as a last resort in late winter. In this article, the Morton Arboretum says it will attract over 21 different species of birds, and I tend to rely on their information since it is so appropriate to our area here in the Chicago suburbs. The bright red berry-like pomes in late fall and winter are spectacular, as is it's fall color, but it is very leggy and needs the right plant in front of it to hide those bare legs. For this reason, it is best massed. Will do well in many types of soil, full or part sun, and wet or dry soils.

Cornus sericea (Red-Osier Dogwood)
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One of the most useful plants in the residential landscape is Cornus sericea (Red-Osier Dogwood). It will attract over 98 different species of birds (Wow!) and has a nice spring flower and white berry-like drupes and deep green leaves in summer that turn reddish purple in fall. As an added bonus - the red branches provide winter interest and can be used for winter arrangements. Adaptable to many soil conditions, but does best is wet soils.

Myrica pennsylvanica (Northern Bayberry)
Myrica pennsylvanica (Northern Bayberry) is one of my favorite plants. I love the spatulate leaf shape, and the waxy-looking berry-like drupe that cover the plant in fall are gorgeous. Only female plants produce fruit, so a male plant nearby is necessary. Over 85 species of birds visit this plant for food, making it a definite contender for a spot in my garden. While the straight species can grow quite large (8-10 feet tall), a smaller, more compact cultivar is on the way. Grows in full sun or part shade, sandy or clay soil.

Ilex verticillata (Common Winterberry)
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Ilex verticillata (Common Winterberry) is a native holly, complete with the glossy dark green leaves that we all love. It's deciduous, meaning that it will lose it's leaves in the fall, but the red berry-like drupes persist in winter until the birds eat them up. The straight species can grow to 10 feet, but many smaller cultivars are available. This beauty will attract over 20 species of birds. Does well in full sun or partial shade, but produces more fruit in more sun and moist soil.

Symphoricarpos albus (Common Snowberry)
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A low-growing option (3-4 feet) for closer to the front of the border is either Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (Coralberry/Indiancurrant) or Symphoricarpos albus (Common Snowberry). While S. orbiculatus has a purplish berry, and S. albus has a very interesting white berry-like drupe, they both attract lots of birds. This plant is unique because it does well in shade.

With all this focus on fruits, it's important to note that birds will choose an insect to eat over a berry or seed anytime, so it's important to select native plants that will attract insects as well as provide tasty fruits, which all of the above will.

I don't know how I will decide what to plant. Do you have any of these plants? What are your experiences?

For more information, visit Carole Seville Brown's post on Best Berries for Birds in the Wildlife Garden.

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