Berries for the Birds

I recommend doing something extra for the birds this coming year. Maybe you are already filling bird feeders with seed. Perhaps you have put up some bird boxes for them to nest in, rent free. Also, try this: plant some native shrubs with berries for them to eat.

Why native shrubs?

There are many reasons to plant native plants, but my favorite is to preserve wildlife. Native plants and animals co-evolved and are dependent on each other. Trees, shrubs, and perennials provide nuts, seeds, and berries for birds and other animals large and small. Birds, butterflies, bees, and ants pollinate flowers or distribute seeds.
Recent research at the University of Delaware done by Douglas Tallamy has proven that many insects prefer native plants. So, the more native plants there are, the more insects you have. Why is that good? In early spring nesting birds need insects to feed their young. Insects are birdfood. Now you want to plant some native shrubs with berries. Insects are bird food. What do you plant? 

(Highbush Blueberries)

Vaccinium corymbosum

Blueberries are one of my favorites. That’s right, just like the ones in the super market. They are easy to grow and the berries are loved by both people and birds. More than one kind should be grown to get berries. Acid soil is required. Most top out at 4’ to 8’. A wonderful small cross between Highbush blueberry and Lowbush blueberry is ‘Top Hat’. It stays shorter than 18” and is nice and dense. It’s wonderful in pots and would make a great small hedge in a kitchen garden. Check out the Virginia Berry Farm online for even more information.

(Arrowwood Viburnum)

Viburnum dentatum

There are many wonderful viburnums native to our eastern forests. I mention this one because it is easy to grow and find at your local garden center. It grows in sun or shade, in dry soil or occasional standing water. In the wild it grows to 15’ tall. Some cultivars claim to stay shorter. Other viburnums native to our area are:


Ilex verticillata

Winterberries are a wintertime favorite of mine. They are deciduous Hollys. That means their leaves fall off in the fall. Then all that is left is bright red berries tightly hugging the branches. The berries stay on the bushes for an amazingly long time. In my yard they started their show in fall. It is now January and the berries are still on the branches. Robins often eat them when they return north in early spring. Only females have berries, so buy at least one female and one male. They are tolerant of moist soil, so if you have a wet spot in your yard put them there.


Lindera benzoin

This is a very common shrub from the Quakertown Swamp to the top of Haycock Mountain. But as common as it is in the local forest, it is difficult to purchase. I found mine at Fairweather Gardens in New Jersey. It has bright red berries in the fall, but only on the female plants. A male is also needed to pollinate the females. It has pale yellow flowers that bloom before the leaves open in early spring. Think of this as native forsythia. The yellow is not as bright, but I find the effect much more pleasing.


Ilex glabra

If you must have an evergreen, here it is. This has become common in garden centers. The key to getting berries is buying females. Some females are: ‘Compacta’, ‘Densa’ and ‘Nigra’. To keep the girls happy try ‘Nordic’ or ‘Pretty Boy’ they are both males. The females do get berries but you may not notice them, because they are black and hard to see in the dark green foilage.