Tuesday, 20 March 2007


Photo: Pyracantha ladened with berries.

I would like to plant some shrubs with berries in the garden so the birds get a feed in the winter, what would you recommend? Are all of the colours of berries available in the garden centres attractive to the birds? B.F Newtown


Thick shrubs, both native and non native, will always provide a good habitat for birds, not just to shelter and possibly find a nesting site, but also to search for insect food. Choosing flowering shrubs that set edible fruit is the best of all possible worlds. A native such as hawthorn will attract many insects to its nectar and pollen, protect a vulnerable nest with its thorns and dense foliage, and provide nutritious berries from September through the winter. But if we would like more variety in the garden, how can we be sure that a non-native shrub will have edible berries? One very general guide is that as a rule, red or orange berries attract more birds than yellow or white. Many shrubs, including holly, Pyracantha and Berberis have been bred with berries of paler colours to please the gardener rather than garden wildlife. These berries are often left completely untouched by the birds The breeding and selection process singles out plants with berries that ripen slowly or not at all, so many never develop their ‘final’ berry colour, and stay hard and inedible. Shrubs like these will provide colour in the garden throughout the winter but are best planted with a selection that will also provide food for birds. Those that ripen only slowly may be useful, as berries left until the very end of the cold weather will be welcomed by a large number of species, especially thrushes and blackbirds.
So where non-natives are concerned, red is best, but some shrubs have black or dark purple berries. By and large these seem to be palatable but it can be a rather hit and miss affair. It is not uncommon to find that a berried shrub that attracts masses of birds one year will be devoid of visitors the next winter. This can be the result of weather conditions which may affect the palatability of berries, or there may be a surplus of food elsewhere. The key is to plant as large a variety of berried shrubs and climbers as you can and hedge your bets.

Top Five Natives for Berries and Fruits

Hawthorn – The best native hedging shrub. Attracts thrushes, including redwings and fieldfares, waxwings and finches.

Rowan – An excellent small native tree for a garden. Attracts blackbirds and thrushes.

Elder – A good shrub if you have space but it can become invasive. Attracts many species especially starlings, finches and thrushes.

Holly – A good general wildlife shrub for food and nesting for many species. The birds enjoy the berries, as long they haven’t all been picked for sale in the shops!

Spindle – Provides a very late food supply. Loved by robins.

Ivy – A brilliant all round wildlife plant. The berries set very late and provide a vital food source for pigeons, doves, thrushes and blackbirds and warblers.

Top Five Non-Natives for Berries and Fruits

Pyracantha - A good food source and nesting shrub for many species.

Berberis – Red berried varieties are best for redwings, fieldfares and blackbirds.

Viburnum – The black-berried Viburnum tinus attracts smaller birds to its fruit, especially finches and robins.

Cotoneaster – The Herringbone Cotoneaster (C. horizontalis) is a must, but other red berried forms are also good.

Apple – Leave windfalls for thrushes, blackbirds, starlings, finches and many other species.


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