Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
November, 2000
Regional Report

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Bright clusters of greenbrier berries look ripe, but wild birds will wait until they have mellowed to snap them up.

Berries for the Birds

When branches go bare in the fall, I clean up my bird feeders and put them back into service. After a summer of eating insects and crabgrass seeds (and a million other things), the birds must wait awhile for many tree berries to age until they're palatable. Often the birds wait until wild fruits begin to ferment, which takes weeks or months in cold winter weather.

Nature's Bird Berries

Look around, and you will see how nature has stocked her pantry with berry goodies for birds to gather when the time is right. Some wild vines such as Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and greenbrier (Smilax lanceolata) are laden with fruit that birds will eat. Flower plumes of staghorn sumac along roadsides are perfect for pecking the seeds out come January.

Homegrown Bird Berries

You can add to the buffet by growing berry-bearing shrubs in your yard. I'm always surprised when the mockingbirds decide that my holly berries are sufficiently weathered, which is often as late as March. Meantime, they glean the last shriveled serviceberries and wait for the clusters of viburnum berries to ripen the same way I wait for a cake to bake to perfection. And when the mood hits the blue jays in late winter, the juniper berries finally get gobbled up.

Berry Bushes to Avoid

Wildlife experts suggest that gardeners stock their yards with native berry-bearing shrubs such as serviceberries and avoid imported plants that can be invasive, such as privet, Russian olive, and some types of viburnum. Remember, whatever seeds the birds eat will end up "planted" somewhere, and invasive species often crowd out more desirable native species.

One Good Berry Bush

One of the prettiest noninvasive shrubs that produces berries for birds is Koreanspice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii). It grows to about 5 feet tall and wide and bears fragrant flowers in spring followed by clusters of black berries in the fall. The leaf color is great in fall, and the birds love the berries all winter.

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