By Natalie Carmolli, Proven Winners® ColorChoice®
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners
Recently, as I began the seasonal cycle of refilling my bird feeders, I started to think about additional ways to create a natural, friendly habitat for our outdoor feathered friends. And of course what fits the bill perfectly? Shrubs! Berry-producing shrubs create a naturally occurring food source and with good planning, they can feed the birds from mid-summer well into the winter.
The bird buffet starts in late summer with the delightful Aronia shrub. Proven Winners® ColorChoice® Low Scape Mound™ Aronia is a dwarf variety, and even though it's the 2019 PW National Landscape Shrub of the Year, it will also perform beautifully in a home garden. It's adaptable to wet or dry soils and it's only about 1-2' tall so it can be planted alongside a house as a sweet little border that is virtually maintenance-free. White spring flowers give way to dark purple summer berries. Commonly called a chokeberry for its astringency, the fruit is praised for its antioxidant qualities, but pick them quickly if you want a harvest for yourself; the birds love them!
Berberis is another spring flowering shrub that gives way to summer berries. I know, barberry is shunned for its invasive tendencies, but there is a non-invasive choice: Sunjoy Todo™ Berberis. This semi-dwarf variety with a mounded habit features deep purple-maroon foliage and showy bright orange-yellow spring flowers that give way to seedless summer berries. University testing has shown that this hybrid variety consistently produces berries that contain no seed, so the birds are happy and so are gardeners.
Pearl Glam® Callicarpa is definitely a rock star when it comes to beautyberry plants. The show starts in spring, with its dark purple foliage, then late summer brings white flowers that yield spectacular violet-purple berries by the hundreds. Pearl Glam® beautyberry is a vigorous plant with an upright habit that makes it a space-saver compared to more conventional varieties.
For winter foraging and a colorful seasonal show, you can't beat winterberry holly. Ilex verticillata normally grows to heights of 6-8' but for tighter spaces, there are smaller varieties like Little Goblin® Orange winterberry holly. This little ball of color lights up the darkest season with dozens of extra-large, bright orange-red berries and is just 3-4' tall and wide. In order to get fruit, you will need to plant Little Goblin® Guy winterberry holly as a pollinator. Birds do eat the fruit of winterberry holly, but usually not until it has been softened by cold for several weeks. This means that you can usually enjoy the berry display until at least mid-January.
Another late-winter bird food favorite is Symphoricarpos. Proud Berry® coralberry will fill your landscape with gorgeous, big, pink berries that are guaranteed to turn heads. Bell-shaped summer flowers develop into large dark pink berries in fall, the color intensifying with cold weather. As pretty as it is, this native plant is also amazingly hardy and deer-resistant. Symphoricarpos is a mouthful, but not for humans as the berries are not edible. However, the birds will enjoy them as they soften mid-to-late winter.
Finally, when you're thinking about the creatures that survive outside, think about landscape perimeters. These often unused spaces can be used to create shelter for local wildlife. Take those neglected edges of your property and plant some groupings of specimens with wildlife appeal. A mix of tall and short evergreens and deciduous plants will not only provide you with a beautiful, ever-changing display of varied textures and colors, but it will also create micro-habitat for local wildlife.
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