Berry-bearing bushes the birds (and you) will enjoy
"I am interested in planting bushes/trees that will produce fruit that birds like to eat. Can you recommend any that will not take long to bear? I'm 76 years old." - Thanks, Nancy J
This e-mail made me smile. Nancy is not alone. I've had many requests for berry-bearing trees and shrubs, and most folks want quick results. Of course, the answer for quick results is to plant big. If you can afford to plant a more mature plant, it will produce more fruit quicker.
I have always wanted to attract birds to our yard by some means other than constantly filling feeders. It seems the feeders are merely smorgasbords for the squirrels around here, and I'm not great about cleaning them and keeping them filled. And my kids hate to fill bird feeders.
So, throughout the years, we've put in some pretty standard bird-attracting plants that are easy to grow, hardy and attractive to humans, as well. As I was working in the yard recently, I made a note of several that I suggest.
Robins love the beautyberries in our yard. We have Callicarpa bodinieri 'Profusion,' and I also love Callicarpa americana and Callicarpa dichotoma, also known as the Chinese beautyberry. The magnificent purple (yes, they are grape-popsicle purple) berries are spaced every inch or two along the stem. I use them in arrangements in the fall, if I can beat the birds to them.
The dwarf nandina (Nandina domestica 'Wood's dwarf' and 'Firepower') in our front circle attract cedar waxwings and robins while the flowers are attractive to bees. I must admit I was a bit upset when the starlings discovered these bushes - they scared all of the other birds away!
I've seen many songbirds around the viburnums out back - we have Korean Spice (Viburnum carlesii), Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) and Tea viburnum (Viburnum setigerum), and they are a big hit with the mockingbirds. (An interesting note from my bird book: The mockingbird is omnivorous. About half its diet consists of arthropods, including beetles, ants, bees, wasps and grasshoppers, but it will also eat earthworms and small lizards. In the fall, though, they will eat fruits, both wild and cultivated, and they love our viburnums.)
The Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) near our driveway always has a bird or two in its branches. In the fall, the small black-purple fruit is quite sweet.
We have two beautiful Kousa dogwoods (Cornus kousa) that my friend Sally planted in honor of our children's baptisms. Throughout the fall, these trees provide luscious red berries that attract wild birds like mad. And as a bonus, it seems that there must be some fruit leftover in the beds for spring, because there are always lots of cardinals in that bed enjoying something.
I fuss each spring, because the trees are in a bed with perennials underneath, and lots of little dogwoods sprout from the pods that the birds miss. But after I quit fuming, I easily dig these seedlings. Into the garden cart, out to the back of the house, down to the hill we go - and I now have a grove of Kousa dogwoods growing along the edge of the woods.
Lois Trigg Chaplin's "The Southern Gardener's Book of Lists" gives several suggestions for attracting hummingbirds to the garden. They include red buckeye (Aesculus pavia), hawthorns (Crataegus spp.), tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), flowering crabapples (Malus spp.) and American beech (Fagus grandifolia).
If anyone has any suggestions for Nancy, please let us know.
Dinner is served
"To me, the garden is a doorway to other worlds; one of them, of course, is the world of birds. The garden is their dinner table, bursting with bugs and worms and succulent berries." - Anne Raver
Sara Busse is a Charleston resident and Master Gardener. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.