Last updated on December 2nd, 2011
Trees, shrubs and vines which adorn themselves in bright red berries during the coldest months provide colorful accents for the winter garden, and also food for the birds, whose plumage sparkles in the frosty air. Choices for scarlet-fruited plants are seemingly unlimited. Here are the ones that attract the most birds to my own winter landscape; some of the shrubby growers even provide me with cutting material for wreaths, garlands, and house bouquets:
Berberis thunbergii, the red barberry, offers both food and protection for wintering birds, including finches and sparrows. Few cats are willing to encounter the shrub’s fountainous branches, which are covered with very sharp thorns. Planted as a boundary-hedge, berberis effectively deters people, too.
The upright-growing, evergreen yew, Taxus hicksii, makes a formal hedge for my rose garden. It’s cranberry-colored fruit is enjoyed by gackles, blackbirds, and thrushes.
Weeping in habit, and elegant in all seasons, are the two Malus ‘Red Jade’ trees in the rose garden. During mild winters these crabapple trees hold onto their fruits until the crop of spring flowers forces them off. During more severe years, the ruby-toned jewelry is gobbled up by woodpeckers, robins, mockingbirds, catbirds, and grosbeaks.
Certain roses, including ‘Carefree Delight’ offer large, colorful berries, or “hips” in winter. The hips are rich in vitamin C, and make healthy eating for grouse, juncos, bluebirds, and thrushes. I sometimes add sprigs of rosehips to winter bouquets for the house.
Above, the ‘Blue Princess’ holly makes a pretty red and green picture for the plot behind my potting shed. ‘Blue Prince,’ its pollinating-mate, dwells a mere 8 feet away. Holly berries are the fa-la-la of wild turkeys, mockingbirds, and woodpeckers. I’m told that skunks, racoons, foxes and bears enjoy them, too!
Too wild, perhaps, for the well-manicured landscape, but perfectly acceptable where garden meets woodland, is the Staghorn sumac. Its velvety, deep-red clusters of fruit keep robins and vireos from starving in late-winter. I have even seen desperate blue jays and cardinals eat them.
Wild honeysuckle, Lonicera, attracts blue jays, cardinals, finches and mockingbirds, who dine on its dazzling red pearls. Lonicera can look elegant in a woodland setting; I value the shrub’s vaselike form and fragrant white trumpets that emerge in summer.
The tiny hips that appear on the wild, or “prickly” rose are adored by finches, but sadly overlooked by decorators. Sprigs of these berries make a a lovely red foil for evergreen wreaths and garlands, and also Christmassy bouquets.
Do you, in your own winter yard, have a fruiting tree, shrub, or vine that attracts colorful birds? Tell me about it in the comments below.
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