Published on 02/26/96

Plant Berries for Birds in Your Wild Garden

Winter is when flocks of cedar waxwings and robins gorge themselves on winter berries.

On the University of Georgia campus, these birds are now arriving en masse to feed on the black fruits of cherry laurel and red berries of American holly.

Winter is the right time to transplant, so how about adding some berry bushes to your garden for the birds? Here are some ideas to think about when planning a year-round berry cafeteria for birds.

Do you want native or exotic plants? Would you prefer shrubs or trees?

When do you want the fruit?

For the earliest fruit in spring, the bronze eleaquus is a good choice. Its red oval berry ripens in March or April.

Later in the spring come red and white mulberries, followed by wild black cherry, blueberries (wild and cultivated), Chickasaw plum, juneberry and silverberry. That brings us to the start of summer.

For midsummer I can't think of many favorites -- maybe pokeweed. But as summer fades and fall develops, there are many choices.

I like American beauty-berry. It's not really a preferred bird berry, but it is beautiful. Autumn olive ripens in the fall, along with an array of fall berry plants: dogwoods, possum haw and hawthorns. I particularly like parsley haw.

Fall berries that persist into winter are smooth sumac, sugarberry, hawthorns, calloway crab apple, sparkleberry, cherry laurel and American holly. There are dozens more. These are just some of my favorites.

What kinds of birds might come to your parade of berries? Not many, come to think of it.

Of Georgia's 325-or-so kinds of birds, the most likely berry feeders to visit your backyard are the mockingbird, brown thrasher, catbird, robin, cedar waxwing, red-bellied woodpecker, bluebird and -- well, can you think of others?

Before you buy your berry bonanza, think of any liabilities. Some of these plants are invasive exotics and can spread to nearby natural areas and take over.

Do you have the right place in full sun? If your choice will grow into a large tree, do you have the right place?

Does your soil type meet the specification of the plant? Blueberries and sparkleberry, for example, like acid soil.

Call your county Extension agent and find out how to do a soil test. The agent can send it in and get you a printout telling what your soil needs to support your favorite plants.

If you want a chart describing favorite berry plants for birds, send me a note at the University of Georgia, Extension Forest Resources, Forestry 4, Athens, GA 30602. I'll mail you one.

Jeff Jackson is a professor of wildlife management in the D.B. Warnell School of Forest Resources of the University of Georgia.