Gardening for the birds…

We are big time bird lovers. We provide food during the cold months for them but now, as summer begins, they are foraging for food naturally. However, if you still want to attract birds at different times of the year, one of the best ways is by planting native trees and shrubs that produce berries at different times.

Ripening right now are the juicy berries of our two ornamental serviceberry trees (Amelanchier spp.) ‘Autumn Brilliance’  that are providing most of the backyard entertainment for us. In my opinion, this 25′ understory tree is one of the most beautiful trees you can plant. The tree is literally covered in early white flowers in the spring making it an early source of pollen and nectar for insects as well as eye candy for us, and now… berries are beginning to ripen in hanging clusters and the trees are alive with wildlife.

We thought maybe there’d be a few ripe berries for us but it’s not to be. Just take a look at a few of the feathered visitors:

The Catbird

The catbirds found the berries first

cardinals

The cardinals weren’t far behind

I’m amazed at how the cedar waxwings find us each year but they do… accomplishing acrobatics in their formal dress. They travel in a flock so we know the berries won’t last much longer. All stages of fruit are on the tree but the waxwings don’t mind green berries.

Difficult for me to capture on a smart phone but I was curious whether this robin below with a mouthful of 3 worms could actually have the ability to snag a berry, too. As you can see in the second fuzzy photo, operation accomplished! Off to feed its young…

Birds aren’t the only animals that enjoy these tasty treats. We’ve seen our neighborhood four-footed animals reaching for the ripest berries.

And so… I am willing to give up my dream of serviceberry jam, serviceberry pie or maybe a little serviceberry wine, just to attract varied wildlife to the yard. Our serviceberry trees will provide summer shade for my perennials and in the fall, the trees’ foliage will glow in deep reds, yellows, and oranges. As our trees age, the bark will become rough but, with our young trees we have the smooth gray bark for winter interest.

The last one bit the dust…

With our late March snowstorms, the lone Bradford pear tree in the neighborhood could no longer bear the snow weight and lost 90% of its limbs. The tree was removed and thank goodness!  If Michael Dirr, professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia and my go-to expert on woody plants, says the tree is a ‘scourge,’ then it is. Once the darling of the nursery industry in the 1950’s, we now know what a mistake it is to plant a Callery pear.

The trees are probably a true harbinger of spring with their very early beautiful, white blossoms (that come with a stench!). The Callery pear was brought from China and found to be fast growing, disease resistant, adaptable to numerous climates, soil types, sun or shade and pollution.

As the Bradford tree grew in popularity, nurseries began developing several cultivars, Chanticleer pear, Aristocrat pear, Cleveland Select pear…. as the Bradford was soon to be found to have major flaws in the branches that grew at weak V-shaped angles from the tree. Trees began to split or lose branches. New cultivars somewhat improved the problem but the Bradford continued to reign in landscapes and as a urban street tree.

Bradford 2018

In many areas of the country today, the tree has spread into wild areas choking out natives. Cultivars themselves aren’t invasive but the combination of different cultivars hybridize and produce fertile fruit. Several states have listed the tree as invasive and in many areas, it is forbidden to plant one. I poked around online but didn’t see any information about the tree being invasive in New Hampshire.

Virginia, my home state, is one area that lists the tree as an invasive plant…. and I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Ohio and Kentucky where landscapes and woodland edges were white from pear tree blooms. It’s listed as invasive in Ohio. Beautiful to behold but who knows what the impact of escaped trees is to our ecosystem.

A little past bloom peak, I photographed this pear tree lined avenue in Louisville KY as we drove by last week. I wouldn’t park my car beneath those branches!

Louisville

As for me, I’m sticking with the serviceberry tree that is an equally beautiful spring bloomer, a native that provides year round interest… fluffy white flowers in early spring and just full of bees, followed by edible berries that the birds adore, then we enjoy lovely orange-red leaves in the fall.  You can’t go wrong with this one…

 

Planting for Birds

From our breakfast table, we have a good view of two serviceberry trees (Amelanchier x grandiflora) we planted two years ago. As with all shrubs and trees I have ever planted, they were chosen with birds in mind. Not only do these native trees provide us with early spring blooms, the blooms ripen to berries in June bringing us birds we wouldn’t see otherwise in our small yard…. like this cedar waxwing and his friends that are daily visitors. They have completely cleaned one tree of berries and are working hard on the second tree. As soon as a berry ripens, it disappears!

The trees feed a number of birds…cardinals, catbirds, grosbeaks, robins and more, as well as providing an early bloom for pollinators and a lovely spring sight covered in white blooms for us. I have sampled a few of the ripe berries… sweet and delicious… but I’m afraid I’ll not be baking a serviceberry pie this year. I’m leaving the berries for our fine feathered friends.

Growing up in Virginia, the species my mother grew was Amelinchier canadensis that we called ‘Shadbush,’ a name that signals the shad running in local rivers when the tree blooms. The species I grow is Amelanchier x grandiflora, ‘Autumn Brilliance,’ a name that describes the beautiful brilliant red leaves in the fall. In the winter, the tree has an interesting branch structure and smooth grey bark that will eventually become rough as it ages. We do prune the suckers at the base into one main tree trunk but the species is often left as a multi-stemmed shrub.

So…if you want a lovely small tree (or shrub) that attracts birds and provides you with 4-season ornamental interest, consider one of the native serviceberry trees.  All good…