Berries for birds

Your garden can provide birds with essentials such as food, shelter and the chance of finding a mate so make it appealing to them by installing a birdbath and plenty of nest boxes and make your borders a haven for birds by boosting them with berried trees and shrubs.

Birds prefer untidy borders, so to encourage more visitors leave dead flower heads on plants so that the birds such as chaffinches and greenfinches can pick out the seeds. Don’t clear up all the autumn leaves either – leave some leaf litter around so that birds can scratch around in it for mini beasts.

Plant roses with attractive hips, cotoneaster, berberis and a mountain ash or crab apple tree plus the self-fertile English holly, Ilex aquifolium J.C. van Tol, and you will be able to enjoy watching a variety of birds work their way from berry bush to berry bush well into the depths of winter.

Early herbalists believed ivy berries could counteract the unwanted side-effects of alcohol consumption and according to the RSPB, ivy berries contain nearly as many calories as Mars bars, gram for gram, but they are poisonous, containing oxalates, needle-like crystals that cause pain and swelling in the lips, face, tongue, and skin

A wall clad with evergreen ivy for example, will give winter shelter and later nesting sites for wrens, house sparrows and blackbirds and the berries, which emerge later than other fruit-bearing shrubs, will be eaten eagerly by resident birds.

As tough as old boots, thorny pyrancantha or Firethorns can be grown as an evergreen hedge or as a wall shrub to deter burglars entering your property. They offer great value for money with sweetly fragrant, bee-friendly flowers in June followed by bright red, orange or yellow berries that the birds adore. Orange Glow is a reliable, vigorous variety with long-lasting berries.

The variety Red Column has a more upright habit than most pyracanthas, making it most suitable for hedging, and will be covered with bright red berries in autumn, however birds are likely to strip plants bare by Christmas as they pick them off before scouring borders for other berries.

Golden Glow is one of the best pyracanthas for bright yellow berries that outlast any shrubs with red berries and as it also produces a dense network of armoured stems, it will give birds shelter and likely become a great nesting site for small birds

Ideal for a shady shrub or mixed border, Skimmia Nymans produces white fragrant flowers that are followed by long lasting, bright red berries as long as there is a male variety is planted close by –1 male plant will pollinate up to 4 female varieties. Skimmia with red buds or berries looks stunning alongside evergreen perennials such as heucheras in containers, which are useful for decorating the patio during autumn and winter.

Sorbus Joseph Rock is available from www.chewvalleytrees.co.uk, who are mail order stockists of hardy, native and ornamental trees

Against a backdrop of leaves that turn beautiful shades of red, orange and yellow, the small garden tree, Sorbus Joseph Rock produces bright golden fruits that turn creamy-white to deep amber-yellow. They remain on the tree well into winter before the soft, juicy berries are picked off by birds and particularly waxwings and thrushes. The creamy white flowers that adorn the branches of sorbus trees in May-June also attract plenty of wildlife and especially bees.Whilst Mahonia Winter Sun is grown for its attractive dark, shiny evergreen foliage and yellow fragrant winter flowers, it’s the blue-black, clustered fruits that give rise to its common name of Oregon grape.

The acidic fruits of mahonia are edible but if you want a few to add to your muesli or porridge, be quick…the birds love them too

Viburnum davidii is a real tough plant and perfect for problem places, which is why it’s been given an ‘Award of Garden Merit’ (AGM) by the Royal Horticultural Society. It has Architectural qualities with evergreen leaves, dull white flowers, which on female plants are followed by egg-shaped fruits, which are an unusual bright ‘metallic’ turquoise blue and last through into winter until the thrush family in particular, eat the berries.

 Both male and female plants need to be planted for berries

Viburnum davidii is also a good choice for the autumn garden where it can be used as low level, ground hugging evergreen planting between large shrubs or as an alternative to grass in a narrow verge. It’s a tough plant and will survive chalky soils, partial shade as well as drought and cold winds.

Deciduous Viburnum opulus is another great wildlife garden plant, which can be grown as an informal hedge. In late spring striking white flowers emerge that are followed by bright red fruit in the autumn, which look like bright jewels against the red-purple autumn-tinted leaves.

You’ll need to plant both male and female holly trees for berries and to be guaranteed a good crop, it must have been a good summer 18 months previously when the flowers were pollinated and fertilized. Holly trees are pollinated by insects but seed spread by birds through whose gut they must pass before germination. Apart from attracting birds, holly bushes also serve as wonderful garden hedge plants.

Holly berries are particularly useful if you wish to attract robins or other small birds into your garden

Cotoneaster horizontalis will survive most gardens although it has a preference for well-drained soil. In May, the glossy dark green leaves of Cotoneaster horizontalis are studded with tiny, pinkish-white flowers, followed by bright red autumn berries. The leaves turn orange-red before they fall to reveal a pretty herringbone pattern, making it a good plant for growing flat against a wall. The red berries tend to hang around on the plant and may show signs of shriveling and discoloration before they are snatched by birds as an emergency supply when severe weather takes hold.

Although it spreads horizontally, when planted at the base of a sunny wall, Cotoneaster horizontalis shows a propensity to grow upwards 1.5-1.8m rather than horizontally. The layers of leaves and berries, vibrant autumn colour and the naked herringbone patterned branches will then face you straight on, to good effect

Watch the birdie!

By putting up a nest box in your garden, you can not only help the valuable conservation work but also get pleasure from seeing wild birds set up home. Fix them to trees where birds like to perch and they may also be used as a winter roost. Installing a bird box CCTV camera will also add to your enjoyment!

It’s best to put up nest boxes up between August and February, which is outside the breeding season

Bird boxes should also be fixed a minimum of 1.8m from the ground, either on a house wall or in a tree and in a quiet part of the garden that’s sheltered from the wind, rain and sun – if the box is in full sun, the occupants might overheat! Placing bird boxes close to rose bushes will also ensure that the birds will feed on aphids and other pests.

Cultivate the soil to expose earthworms and soil pests and also attract robins, which have a friendly demeanor and will accompany you as you work and sit on your spade as it rests in the veg patch!

Very active birds such as tits and house sparrows, use up lots of energy during the cold winter weather, so to maintain their fat reserves and help them survive the frosty nights, hang in tree branches the odd suet ball or two and fill holes and cracks in posts and tree trunks with suet to attract wrens and woodpeckers into the garden. Don’t site these food stations near nest boxes though, as the busy atmosphere will put the birds off nesting, which resident birds will start to gear up for in February

Join in the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch

To get involved in helping the RSPB, register your interest on the 12 December. You’ll just need to pick an hour over the weekend of 26-28 January 2019 and tell the RSPB what you see. It couldn’t be easier! For details visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatchbbc

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