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Best Plants with Berries For Birds

By: James A. Baggett
Provide protection and a food source for birds when you add a few of these beautiful plants with berries to your gardenscape.

Cedar Waxwing bird on a crabapple tree with berries: A Cedar waxwing rests in the branches of a crabapple tree full of berries.

Grow berries for the birds

One of the easiest and most efficient ways to invite birds to your garden is by planting berry-producing plants. These plants with berries will attract songbirds and other feathered friends to your yard for years to come. Not only are berries among the most natural and essential food sources for birds, they’re also easy to grow. Berries (and other fruits) are the icing on the cake, the final act before winter finally shuts down the garden. And many plants go out with a bang!

Red, orange, blue, purple or white, berries glow among leaves or on bare stems, transforming an already attractive plant into a work of art. And many berry plants hold their fruit into winter, sometimes even until spring, giving you an extra season or two of interest.

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Winter fuel for feathered friends

The colorful berries you see on trees, shrubs and even some annuals and perennials are lovely to look at. But they’re not there just to be beautiful. While these colorful fruits are really for reproduction, if you only grow these plants for one reason, do it for the birds. Winter’s just around the corner, and they’re looking for a high-energy meal to get them ready for cold weather. Sure, you can buy bird food, but don’t you prefer your produce homegrown?

Pretty & practical plants

Make sure you put these plants where you can enjoy them. For example, the bright red fruits of a crabapple or winterberry look great from a distance. But others are more subtle, like the white fruits of snowberry. Grow these near a path where you can admire them up close.

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Plant a bird banquet

Birds can sometimes be picky eaters. Like children, they’ll often eat their favorites first. But give them time, or a very cold winter, and the birds that stick around will eventually eat the rest. To make sure your feathered guests have choices, it’s a great idea to grow a variety of plants, such as annuals, perennials and grasses, that have edible seeds, too. The plants may not be as showy, however the birds will spend more time visiting your garden if you provide lots of options. Since gardeners enjoy colorful autumn fruit almost as much as the birds, let’s take a look at some of the best and brightest Mother Nature has to share.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)

You can grow serviceberry as a specimen with a single trunk, but its natural habit is to have several stems sprouting from the base, similar to the way a birch grows. The fruit is great for jams and pies, if you can get to it before the birds do. Serviceberries don’t need to be pruned, but if you want to tidy yours up a bit, do it in late winter, before buds develop. The loose, open branch structure makes this tree great for a small garden — enough light gets through that you can grow a garden right up to the base.

Type Tree Blooms White flowers in spring, red berries in early summer Light Full sun to part shade Soil Well-drained to clay soil Size 15 to 25 ft. tall, 20 to 30 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

Arrowwood viburnum has been around a long time. In fact, it’s a North American native. But recently, new cultivars with more colorful fruit, like Blue Muffin (shown above), are showing up in garden centers. Fairly fast growing with lots of dense, bright green foliage, arrowwood viburnum makes a good hedge. It’s not the kind you shear, but an informal screen made up of shrubs that rarely need clipping. Not only will you get summer flowers on a hedge like this, but also colorful fruit, which is popular with lots of songbirds. Then to close out the year, the foliage turns shades of yellow, orange and red.

Type Shrub Blooms Creamy white blooms in summer, bright blue fruit in autumn Light Full sun to part shade Size 6 to 10 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 2 to 8

Juniper (Juniperus spp.)

Evergreens are great fall plants just because of their foliage. But some are known for their fruit, too. Like hollies, junipers can be male or female. Females produce bright blue fruits, like the ones above. And blue is a great color to contrast with all of those golden yellows and rich reds that are so common in fall. From low, spreading forms to foundation shrubs and even trees, there are junipers to fit almost any situation. They prefer a well-drained soil and can tolerate difficult situations. So if you have a sunny spot where nothing else will grow, try a juniper.

Type Shrub Blooms Insignificant; female trees produce round, gray to blackish-green berry-like cones that ripen in fall Light Full sun Size Up to 30 ft. tall and up to 25 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

Looking for an adaptable, hardworking shrub that also has glamorous fall color and berries? Black chokeberry may be the answer. Showy, white spring flowers, glossy pest-resistant foliage and enough shiny black fruit to weigh the branches down make black chokeberry beautiful in any setting. And the leaves turn red for fall, too. Black chokeberry suckers to form colonies that are excellent bird and wildlife habitat.

Type Shrub Blooms Showy white flowers in spring followed by red fall foliage and long-lasting black fruit Light Full sun to part shade Size 3 to 6 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

Winterberry is a holly, but it’s not evergreen. The leaves turn yellow brown and drop off to reveal branches lined with colorful berries in fall. You can grow these holly berries in zone 3. Plus the fruit hangs on, and stays colorful for a long time — at least until birds find it. So, cut a few berry-laden branches and enjoy them indoors in a vase. Surprisingly, the fruit will stay colorful longer if you don’t put the cut stems in water. Like most hollies, you do need a male cultivar to produce pollen and then one or more females to give you lots of fruit.

Type Shrub Blooms Green-white blooms in summer, red fruit hangs on late into winter Light Full sun to part shade Size 3 to 15 ft. tall, 3 to 12 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.)

In full sun, you’ll get the most fruit. And the habit of a snowberry, sometimes called coralberry, will be dense. Move it into more shade and it becomes an open, almost wispy, plant. You can clip it for a fuller appearance if you like but it really looks best with an open, natural appearance. Very hardy, this shrub will tolerate poor soil, even clay. The early summer flowers are small, either pale pink or white, and not very showy — grow it for the late season fruit.

Type Shrub Blooms Small pink or white in summer followed by clusters of white berries Light Full sun to part shade Size 3 to 6 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 2 to 7

Flowering crabapple (Malus hybrids)

It used to be that crabapples were grown just for their edible fruit. Somewhere along the line, somebody realized how beautiful and fragrant the spring flowers were. Now, years later, we have lots of improved, disease-resistant cultivars. Even if we don’t eat the fruit anymore, it still plays an important role. Many newer crabapples are being bred to have fruit that hangs on for a long time.

Type Tree Blooms Shades of pink and white in spring, followed by orange or red fruits in fall Light Full sun Size 6 to 25 ft. tall, 8 to 10 25 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Pyracantha (Pyracantha spp. and hybrids)

Oranges and reds are known as the colors of autumn. And pyracantha, sometimes called “scarlet firethorn,” usually has very vibrant colors. Pyracantha does have thorns, so if you’ve been looking for an impenetrable hedge, this is a good choice. Or if you only have a confined space, this shrub is “pruner friendly” and can be trained into a flat espalier in a narrow spot like the one shown. Just make sure to wear heavy leather gloves to protect against the thorns. Even though it’ll tolerate some shade, you’ll get the most fruit in full sun.

Type Shrub Blooms White flower clusters in spring, red or orange fruit Light Full sun to part shade Size 4 to 6 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)

You can grow serviceberry as a specimen with a single trunk, but its natural habit is to have several stems sprouting from the base, similar to the way a birch grows. The fruit is great for jams and pies, if you can get to it before the birds do. Serviceberries don’t need to be pruned, but if you want to tidy yours up a bit, do it in late winter, before buds develop. The loose, open branch structure makes this tree great for a small garden — enough light gets through that you can grow a garden right up to the base.

Type Tree Blooms White flowers in spring, red berries in early summer Light Full sun to part shade Soil Well-drained to clay soil Size 15 to 25 ft. tall, 20 to 30 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

Winterberry is a holly, but it’s not evergreen. The leaves turn yellow brown and drop off to reveal branches lined with colorful berries in fall. You can grow these holly berries in zone 3. Plus the fruit hangs on, and stays colorful for a long time — at least until birds find it. So, cut a few berry-laden branches and enjoy them indoors in a vase. Surprisingly, the fruit will stay colorful longer if you don’t put the cut stems in water. Like most hollies, you do need a male cultivar to produce pollen and then one or more females to give you lots of fruit.

Type Shrub Blooms Green-white blooms in summer, red fruit hangs on late into winter Light Full sun to part shade Size 3 to 15 ft. tall, 3 to 12 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

Arrowwood viburnum has been around a long time. In fact, it’s a North American native. But recently, new cultivars with more colorful fruit, like Blue Muffin (shown above), are showing up in garden centers. Fairly fast growing with lots of dense, bright green foliage, arrowwood viburnum makes a good hedge. It’s not the kind you shear, but an informal screen made up of shrubs that rarely need clipping. Not only will you get summer flowers on a hedge like this, but also colorful fruit, which is popular with lots of songbirds. Then to close out the year, the foliage turns shades of yellow, orange and red.

Type Shrub Blooms Creamy white blooms in summer, bright blue fruit in autumn Light Full sun to part shade Size 6 to 10 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 2 to 8

Snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.)

In full sun, you’ll get the most fruit. And the habit of a snowberry, sometimes called coralberry, will be dense. Move it into more shade and it becomes an open, almost wispy, plant. You can clip it for a fuller appearance if you like but it really looks best with an open, natural appearance. Very hardy, this shrub will tolerate poor soil, even clay. The early summer flowers are small, either pale pink or white, and not very showy — grow it for the late season fruit.

Type Shrub Blooms Small pink or white in summer followed by clusters of white berries Light Full sun to part shade Size 3 to 6 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 2 to 7

Juniper (Juniperus spp.)

Evergreens are great fall plants just because of their foliage. But some are known for their fruit, too. Like hollies, junipers can be male or female. Females produce bright blue fruits, like the ones above. And blue is a great color to contrast with all of those golden yellows and rich reds that are so common in fall. From low, spreading forms to foundation shrubs and even trees, there are junipers to fit almost any situation. They prefer a well-drained soil and can tolerate difficult situations. So if you have a sunny spot where nothing else will grow, try a juniper.

Type Shrub Blooms Insignificant; female trees produce round, gray to blackish-green berry-like cones that ripen in fall Light Full sun Size Up to 30 ft. tall and up to 25 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Flowering crabapple (Malus hybrids)

It used to be that crabapples were grown just for their edible fruit. Somewhere along the line, somebody realized how beautiful and fragrant the spring flowers were. Now, years later, we have lots of improved, disease-resistant cultivars. Even if we don’t eat the fruit anymore, it still plays an important role. Many newer crabapples are being bred to have fruit that hangs on for a long time.

Type Tree Blooms Shades of pink and white in spring, followed by orange or red fruits in fall Light Full sun Size 6 to 25 ft. tall, 8 to 10 25 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

Looking for an adaptable, hardworking shrub that also has glamorous fall color and berries? Black chokeberry may be the answer. Showy, white spring flowers, glossy pest-resistant foliage and enough shiny black fruit to weigh the branches down make black chokeberry beautiful in any setting. And the leaves turn red for fall, too. Black chokeberry suckers to form colonies that are excellent bird and wildlife habitat.

Type Shrub Blooms Showy white flowers in spring followed by red fall foliage and long-lasting black fruit Light Full sun to part shade Size 3 to 6 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Pyracantha (Pyracantha spp. and hybrids)

Oranges and reds are known as the colors of autumn. And pyracantha, sometimes called “scarlet firethorn,” usually has very vibrant colors. Pyracantha does have thorns, so if you’ve been looking for an impenetrable hedge, this is a good choice. Or if you only have a confined space, this shrub is “pruner friendly” and can be trained into a flat espalier in a narrow spot like the one shown. Just make sure to wear heavy leather gloves to protect against the thorns. Even though it’ll tolerate some shade, you’ll get the most fruit in full sun.

Type Shrub Blooms White flower clusters in spring, red or orange fruit Light Full sun to part shade Size 4 to 6 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Published: Nov. 4, 2020
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