For The Answer
Saturday, February 16, 2002
Submitted by Calvin Finch, Ph.D., Manager, Conservation Division, Water Resources & Conservation Department, SAWS, and Horticulturist
SHRUBS WITH BERRIES
There are a number of birds that eat berries. We can plant shrubs that produce the fruit they seek. The same shrubs are often very attractive and also provide nesting sites for birds.Hollies are available in many different sizes. Theres a size to fit every landscape need from groundcover to small tree. They will grow in sun or shade and are excellent xeriscape plants. Some of the hollies are also berry producers.The dwarf and standard Burford hollies produce berries that birds will eat after they are softened by cold weather. Dwarf Burford holly is a disciplined grower that reaches about five feet tall. Its standard size cousin reaches eight feet tall. Both are favorite nesting sites for cardinals and chipping sparrows.The standard size yaupon can be trained to a 20-foot single trunk tree, an espalier, or a hedge. It is very versatile and, however you use it, the berries will be produced. The deciduous yaupon or possomhaw is very showy in the winter with its small red berries on the horizontal branches. It grows to seven or eight feet tall. It is not as tolerant of shade as other hollies.Nandinas join the hollies in being basic xeriscape shrubs. The standard nandina reaches seven feet and in partial shade or full sun produces very attractive clusters of red berries. The nandina berries are not as popular with birds as hollies, but mockingbirds and others eventually eat them.There are a number of viburnums that produce berries. The rusty blackhaw gets 10 or 12 feet tall and spreads wide. It has good fall color and the summer berries are popular with birds. Sweet viburnum also reaches 10 or 12 feet tall but does not seem to spread as readily. It has an umbelo of white fragrant blooms in late winter followed by small blue berries that are readily eaten by the birds. The sweet viburnum is evergreen most winters.One of the most popular berries is produced by pyracantha. Mockingbirds, cardinals, and cedar waxwings usually strip ours before mid winter. Pyracanthas have thorns and respond well to pruning so make a great tall (12 to 15 feet) blocking hedge. Birds also like it as a nesting site. Plant pyracantha in full sun. The orange berries are very showy.The little gray berries on the wax myrtle are not showy but the birds always find them. Pope, Odenwald and Fryling in their book Attracting Birds to Southern Gardens report that many species eat the little berries including warblers, vireos and kinglets. Wax myrtle makes a big evergreen shrub 12 by 10 feet. There is a classic specimen at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens as you enter the conservatory. Wax myrtle likes full sun but tolerates some shade.Not too many nice things are said about the wax leaf ligustrum, but in terms of berry production it is hard to beat. The evergreen shrub reaches 16 to 18 feet tall in full sun and produces a huge crop. I have seven or eight naturalized in my yard. Every winter a large flock of cedar waxwings spend three weeks stripping the trees of berries. Ligustrum is spread by seed (by our friends the birds) and have to be cut from fence lines and from the middle of our more desirable shrubs, but every bird lovers yard should probably have at least one.Agarita is a native shrub that with its spined leaves resembles a holly. Most of us see it growing at the base of mesquites or other trees. The yellow blooms are showy for a brief time in the spring. They are followed by berries that you may not even notice because the birds eat them so fast. South Texans talk about a tasty agarita jelly but I have yet to see any. The jelly may be more legend than fact. Local nurseries sometimes have a small supply of agaritas or look for it in native plant sales. Agaritas are not compact shrubs and do not pass the test as specimen plants, but the birds will appreciate a thicket of three or four plants in a corner of the yard.