Bringing Birds To the Garden

September through December proves the best time of year for planting new trees and shrubs in our area. Woodies planted now have the chance to develop strong root systems through the autumn and winter. They are more likely to survive when planted in fall than in the spring.

My ‘to do’ list for the next few weeks includes moving various shrubs and small trees out of their pots and into the ground. And I am always most interested in those woody plants which also attract and support birds in our garden.

This post contains a revised list of  more than 30 woody plants which attract and support a wide variety of birds.  These are native or naturalized in our region of the United States.  Adding a few of these beautiful trees and shrubs guarantees more birds visiting your garden, too.

Read on for specific tips to increase the number of  wildlife species, especially birds, which visit your garden throughout the year.


Forest Garden

July 11 2013 garden 011~

Do you feed the birds?  Most of us gardeners do.  Unless you are protecting a crop of blueberries or blackberries, you probably enjoy the energy and joy birds bring to the garden with their antics and songs.  Birds also vacuum up thousands of flying, crawling, and burrowing insects.  Even hummingbirds eat an enormous number of insects as they fly around from blossom to blossom seeking sweet nectar.  Birds are an important part of a balanced garden community.

We have everything from owls and red tailed hawks to hummingbirds visiting our garden, and we enjoy the occasional brood of chicks raised in shrubs near the house. There is an extended family of red “Guard-inals” who keep a vigilant watch on our coming and goings and all of the activities of the garden.  There are tufted titmice who pull apart the coco liners in the hanging baskets to build their…

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Pyracantha berries in October

Pyracantha:  Love it or hate it.   Most of us have a strong opinion about this fast growing shrub.

We love Pyracantha  for its beautiful fall berries, more correctly called “pomes”, which turn bright red, red orange, orange, or yellow, depending on the cultivar, in autumn.  The berries are beautiful in the landscape, in cut flower arrangements and wreathes; and they attract songbirds.  Cedar waxwings, cardinals, blue jays, and many other back yard birds feast on the berries in late autumn.   Considered poisonous for humans, the berries are mildly hallucinogenic for birds.


This Pyracantha shrub is over 15 feet tall and wide.

Pyracantha, closely related to Cottoneaster, is beautiful espaliered against a wall;  grown as a hedge or against a privacy fence;  or even grown as ground cover on a bank.  Its beautiful white spring flowers are an important source of nectar for bees and other nectar loving insects.  Its evergreen leaves are neat and look good year round.  Its dense, thorny habit provides great cover for birds and gives them very secure nesting sites.

These are Pyracantha’s good qualities, and reasons why I like having it in the garden.

Now, the bad:  Pyracantha is very large; is covered with very long, sharp thorns; and grows with a mind of its own.  It is a fast grower, and so may need trimming back several times in a season to keep it in check if grown near your home.  Since it blooms and sets fruit on old wood, hard pruning may mean sacrificing the berry crop for the coming year.  Once pruned, it sends up new growth in many directions at once.  You almost need “staff” to look after it properly if you want to keep it manicured.  Some varieties will reseed around the garden.  If grown near pathways, its thorns may reach out to grab you, which brings us back to its positive qualities.

October 17 2013 monarch bf 014Those same thorns which make it difficult to prune, also make it an excellent hedging plant.  If you want extra security around the perimeter of your property, Pyracantha is an excellent choice.  I once had a garden which backed along a busy neighborhood thoroughfare.  Although I had an 8′ privacy fence, I also planted shrubs on both the inner and outer sides of that fence.  Azaleas and Camellias went on the outside visible from the street, but I  grew some Pyracantha on the inside where it might be tempting to climb across.  Pyracantha grown along fences and property lines can reinforce boundaries against humans, deer, neighborhood dogs, and others you might want to discourage.

Hardy in Zones 5-9, Pyracantha grows well in a variety of soils and in anything from full sun to partial shade.  There is more berry production in good sunlight, but the plant tolerates a wide range of conditions.  Native to parts of Europe and Asia, Pyracantha is definitely an import in the United States.  It is one of those plants where many hybrids and cultivars are available to suit your need for size, growth habit, and berry color.  Once it is established, it’s drought tolerant and hardy, with few problems from disease or insects.  It doesn’t need fertilizer or any special care.

Pyrancantha berries, just beginning to turn color.

Pyrancantha berries, just beginning to turn color.

One of the nicest things is the ease with which Pyracantha roots.  I’ve taken stem cuttings in late spring (also called “prunings”), dipped the lower cut into rooting hormone, and simply stuck them a few inches into the soil where I wanted a new shrub to grow.   This is how I cultivated a hedge along that privacy fence.  After watering them in, I just kept an eye on them until new growth appeared.  Not every cutting rooted, but enough did that the purpose was served.   Keep in mind that most commonly available cultivars will grow to between 10′ and 20′ tall within five years.  If left alone, most will also get quite wide.  In fact, I am planning to take cuttings from my current plants, and hope to establish a lovely thorny hedge in the areas of the garden where the Bambis still try to penetrate our barriers.  Pyracantha is one of those shrubs we haven’t seen them grazing.

So we choose to love Pyracantha, but also keep a healthy distance from it.  I’m not a native plant purist, and so appreciate its benefits in a wildlife friendly forest garden.  We love its beautiful berries, and we love seeing the crazed antics of the birds eating them.  It is an utterly undemanding, unfussy, dependable shrub; and it shines in autumn when its berries brighten and its green leaves hang on tight into the winter.

A branch of Pyracantha berries which will ripen for the birds and turn orange in late October.

A branch of Pyracantha berries in mid-summer.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

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