As winter approaches and we get more nestled inside of our homes, it still is nice to sit by the fireplace and watch what is happening out in the garden.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to usher in the cold weather any sooner than necessary but sitting in a warm house watching large snowflakes fall and catching the glimpse of a bright red cardinal stop by your garden does the heart good.
Many shrubs and trees provide colourful berries in fall and winter that not only add beauty to your winter landscape but also attract birds to your garden while providing them with necessary food. The shrubs listed below are native varieties and therefore are natural food sources for the birds. It is a win-win-win scenario.
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a native form of deciduous holly. It is commonly found in northern Ontario. Like the evergreen hollies, there are both male and female plants. The female plants will produce masses of orange-red berries that ripen mid-fall and remain on the plants into winter or until the birds discover them. When planting winterberry, make sure that you also plant a male variety within 40 feet of the female plant so that they can cross-pollinate. Some female cultivars that you will see for sale are Berry Poppins and Berry Heavy. There is also a new yellow berry variety named Berry Heavy Gold. The most common male cultivar is Jim Dandy. Hardy to zone 3.
Highbush Cranberry Viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) is a larger growing native shrub growing about 10 feet by 10 feet with large, white, lacey flowers in spring. It does well in full sun to part-shade locations. In late summer to early fall, clusters of bright red berries start to ripen. Berries remain on the plants into winter and after a freeze/thaw process they become palatable for the birds. Hardy to zone 2.
Chokeberry (Aronia) is a little-known, native shrub with four seasons of interest. In the spring, the shrub is covered with masses of small white flowers and glossy green leaves. Large berries form during the summer and as the berries begin to ripen in late summer, the leaves turn a wine red colour. Once the leaves drop, large clusters of black or red berries remain on the plant into winter. These berries are a favourite of cedar wax wings, blue jays, catbirds and mockingbirds. Hardy to zone 3.
Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) is also known as Red Twig Dogwood and is another native to Ontario. As the name implies it is more known for its bright red branches, especially during the colder, winter months. What most people don’t know is that it also produces clusters of small white berries from late fall and into the winter months. So, you are getting double the winter interest with this one. Hardy to zone 1.
Vine (Celastrus scandens) is a native, twining vine mainly found in wooded areas, but is also commonly sold. Make sure if you are buying any that you get both a female and a male plant. Berries are only produced on the female plants, but it must be planted near a male plant for cross-pollination. In late fall, the shells of the yellow berries crack open, revealing the bright orange seed inside. This vine can reach a height of about 30 feet. Please note that its berries are toxic to humans but loved by the birds.
Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is sort of a confusing name for a plant that is actually a member of the juniper family. This large-growing pyramidal evergreen is native to Ontario, especially along the shores of Lake Huron and Lake Erie. It has rich, emerald-green foliage year-round. In the summer, female plants produce small grey berries, ripening to a rich bluish/purple in the fall. These berries are also known as gin berries as they were once used to make gin. The birds tend to leave the berries on the plants until mid-winter and sometimes will become slightly intoxicated eating them. A common variety of the native plant is the Spartan juniper.
Other notable, non-native trees and shrubs with winter berries are Mountain Ash (Sorbus), Crabapples (Malus), Beauty Berry Bush (Callicarpa), Roses (hips) and Blue Hollies (Ilex x meservaea).
So, if you enjoy bird watching, especially during the dreary, winter months, you will make them “berry” happy with a couple of these shrubs or trees in your garden.
Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca.