Grow your own bird food with these 5 berry-producing plants

At any time of year, birds are on the lookout for tasty meals. Some songbirds actually prefer to eat berries, and will literally gobble up the chance to do so.

Here are five varieties that I grow in my garden that produce berries during the summer, fall and winter. They are pretty to look at — and most importantly, feed the birds, too.

Berries appear on Spicebush in early September in my garden.


Spicebush

Latin name: Lindera benzoin

Who it attracts: Robins, Eastern Bluebirds, Wood Thrushes, Gray Catbirds, Blue Jays, Tanagers, Hermit Thrushes and Red-eye Vireos.

What does it look like:
This deciduous shrub grows 5-12 feet tall and 5-8 feet wide, but pruning keeps the size smaller. In late summer, female plants will have red berries that last into fall.

Is it native?
Yes, to the United States.

How many do you need? You will need a female and a male plant.

Why you should grow this:
The berries are 50% fat, which helps birds fuel up during migration.

Other cool features:
This is also the host plant for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly, who will lay eggs on the leaves during the summer months. The caterpillars will hide themselves inside the leaves by using silk to curl the leaf closed.

Winterberry after in ice storm in January 2019.

Winterberry

Latin name: Ilex verticillata

Who it attracts:
Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Bluebirds, Gray Catbirds, Northern Mockingbirds and Northern Cardinals.

What does it look like: 
This shrub will grow slowly and can eventually reach 15 feet tall. It gets red berries in the fall that will last through the winter (until the birds find them, that is).

Is it native?
Yes, to the United States.

How many do you need?
You will need at least one male for every five female plants. (They are marked at plant nurseries.)

Why you should grow this: Winterberry sprigs come in handy for winter decorating — inside and outside.

Other cool features:
Winterberry also comes in a "gold" berry color. I also grow Proven Winners ‘Berry Heavy Gold’.

Elderberry fruit is difficult to harvest because the birds always get to them first. The berries appear in July in my garden.

Elderberry

Latin name: Sambucus canadensis

Who it attracts: Catbirds, House finches, Northern Cardinals, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks, American Goldfinches, Cedar Waxwings, Indigo Buntings and Baltimore Orioles — just to name a few.

What does it look like: Over time this tree can reach 12 feet! In the spring it produces white lace-like flowers which will then turn into the berries.

Is it native? Yes, to the United States.

How many do you need? At least two different varieties.

Why you should grow this: You can make an elderflower liqueur with the flowers. If you choose to harvest the berries, do not eat them raw. The fruit needs to be cooked.

Other cool features:
You can plant this near black walnut trees. In the Middle Ages, elderberry was considered a Holy Tree, capable of restoring good health, keeping good health, and as an aid to longevity, according to the USDA.


'Blue Princess' Holly in the back garden. 

Holly

Latin name: Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Princess' and 'Blue Prince'

Who it attracts: Robins, Eastern Bluebirds, Thrushes, Woodpeckers, Catbirds, Thrashers and Mockingbirds.

What does it look like: This is one of the several varieties of hollies available that produce red berries in the fall.

Is it native? No, this is a hybrid.

How many do you need? You will need a female plant for the berries and a male plant for pollination. Hollies bloom on old wood so think twice before pruning. Plant one male for every three to five females. Averages 6-8 feet tall (can reach 12 feet) but grows slowly.

Why you should grow this: This holly is hardy to Zone 5 (no lower than -20 degrees Fahrenheit or -28 C.).

Other cool features: This plant can be used for winter decorating and wreath-making.

There are many varieties of viburnum. This one is called 'Cardinal Candy' (Viburnum dilatatum).

Viburnum

Latin name: Viburnum dilatatum; Viburnum dentatum

Who it attracts: Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Bluebirds, Gray Catbirds, Northern Cardinals, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks, Red-Eyed Vireos, Veeries and Wood Thrushes.

What does it look like: Different varieties offer different colored berries, including yellow, red, pink and blue. Depending on the variety, it grows 6-8 feet tall and wide.

Is it native? Dilatatum is native to China and Asia and can be invasive in some parts of the U.S. Dentatum is native to the United States.

How many do you need? Depends on the variety, but most often you need two specific varieties to get the berries. Plant descriptions will specify which plant is needed.

Why you should grow this: Viburnums provide canopy that shelters the nests of smaller songbirds.

Other cool features: There are so many varieties, that one type of flower is sure to catch your eye. Here's a sampling of flowers.

A female Eastern Bluebird who stopped by the garden for holly berries and a dip in the heated birdbath.

Comments

  1. I have the elderberry and spicebush. I like that 'Cardinal Candy' Viburnum. I have the Cranberrybush Viburnum. It has nice berries but the squirrels get them all as soon as they ripen.

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