Good Life

Over the Garden Fence: Attract, retain birds with the right plants

In my previous column, I talked about what seed you can use in your bird feeder to attract different birds. Now I want to talk about what plants you can plant on your property to attract birds. The right plants also can welcome a variety of birds by providing food and cover.

For years, gardeners have planted crab apple trees for their spring flowers and fall fruit crops. Most of the newer varieties with smaller fruit feed birds while adding to a splash of winter color. Their t pure white spring blossoms and deep red fruit persist well into the winter.

Many viburnums are noted for their fruit crops in summer and early fall. A few, however, produce fruit that persists into winter. The European cranberry bush and the American cranberry bush viburnum produce juicy red fruit that holds well into winter and feeds a variety of birds. These are less formal than other types and are best used in shrub borders or as screening plants.

Hollies are another favorite winter bird food, especially the deciduous types that drop their leaves.

The winterberry and possum haw develop a dense crop of bright red berries along their stems. Because the fruit is so bright and easily seen, it often serves as an early season food for such birds as robins on their way south. These native, deciduous hollies need moist soil and, like the viburnums, are best used in border plantings. They have an upright, rounded form and look best when underplanted with lower material. They are also dioecious, which means there are male and female reproductive organs on each plant. To assure fruit, it is essential to have both male and female plants. Only one male is needed to supply adequate pollen.

The female plants of the evergreen American holly and smaller evergreen inkberry holly also produce fruit for a variety of birds. American holly has bright red fruit, while inkberry holly produces black fruit. These plants do need some protection from strong winds.

The hawthorns have been used for years as a source of winter food. The genus produces edible fruit attractive to many species, but not all hawthorns are well-suited to a landscape setting.

Two useful hawthorns are Washington and Winter King. Both varieties produce abundant crops of bright red or orange-red fruit in the fall. The quantity is sufficient to last through a number of feedings by numerous bird species. Both trees mature at about 25 feet high with a spread of 15 to 20 feet. Their rounded and spreading crown also contains thorns along the branches and adds to tree density while providing some protection to nesting birds in the spring and summer. The Winter King hawthorn probably has fewer thorns than the Washington hawthorn.

Vines also can provide cover and food for birds. Thick coverings of stems and foliage on a wall or trellis can make ideal nesting sites. Wisteria, Virginia creeper and Japanese creeper (Boston ivy) all form heavy leaf cover in the summer months.  

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