Winter is a tough time to be a bird. Many of the fruits that linger into winter farther north are long gone before the first cold front blows through our region. Fortunately for our feathered friends, there are some great garden plants that can be a food source for them in winter.
Aronia arbutifolia, Zones 4–9
This small, shrubby tree makes a lovely specimen plant. It produces lots of tiny red fruit that isn’t ready for birds to eat until winter. The fruit becomes more visible once the foliage is shed. In the spring it is covered with tiny apple blossom–like flowers in pink and white, highlighted with new green foliage.
Pink muhly grass
Muhlenbergia capillaris, Zones 5–9
This North American native grass is so pretty in fall with its froths of pink seed heads held above dark green foliage. These showy inflorescences also provide nourishing seeds for birds. Give the plants a spot with full sun and good drainage to help them perform their best.
‘Warren’s Red’ possumhaw
Ilex decidua ‘Warren’s Red’, Zones 5–9
‘Warren’s Red’ is a deciduous, multitrunked shrub that typically grows up to 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide. The bright red berries that form up and down the branches are ridiculously showy once the leaves fall off. The trunks have attractive mottled bark and look really good limbed up to make small trees. This plant grows best in full sun to partial shade and in moist, acidic soil that is rich in organic matter.
Persimmon ‘Fuyu’, Zones 7–10
‘Fuyu’ persimmon is a good landscape plant that produces delicious, non-astringent fruit. It is a small tree that stays under 20 feet tall and wide, with an attractive shape, great fall color, and very nice orange fruit that ripens in late fall and early winter. Give this tree full sun and moist, fertile, well-drained soil.
Rosa spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9
There are dozens of beautiful roses that produce abundant hips. When growing these varieties, be sure to stop deadheading in late summer to give the fruit a chance to grow before the cold sets in. The following cultivars make great hedges that provide both food and shelter for birds: ‘Ballerina’, ‘Hansa’, ‘Katy Road Pink’, ‘Penelope’ and ‘Basye’s Blueberry’. The list could go on.
Filling space in the landscape with plants that feed and shelter small, feathered creatures is always satisfying. Remember that birds help to reduce the bug population, so having them around your garden is good for the plants.
—Jason and Shelley Powell own and manage Petals from the Past, a garden center in Jemison, Alabama.