Berries for the Birds in Winter

by Karen Weiland, Advanced Gardener

The LaGrange County Master Gardener group may be small in numbers but we have a wealth of knowledge amongst our well seasoned members.  Gwen Rinker is a member of our group that has earned the Master Gardener Gold level, having been involved in the program since 2001.  He plays a leadership role in the Young Sprouts program at Prairie Heights Elementary School and the following article has been written by him.

“If you want to experience the lively sounds and antics of winter birds outside your window, offer them food and shelter that they need for survival.  There are several plants that will turn your yard into a bird sanctuary.

There are various varieties of Cotoneasters, but this upright shrub is useful for its fall color, flowers and red fruits, which are an attraction to many kinds of birds.

Hawthorn is a good source of fall and winter food for birds and other wildlife.  It provides pink or red flowers in late spring or early summer followed by red berries.

Mountain Ash is a medium sized tree that produces spectacular yellow-red flowers with bright orange berries in the fall that last into winter.

American Highbush Cranberry prefers full sun to partial shade and moist soil.  It has white flowers in late spring and tart red berries in late summer that birds love.  The berries can also be used to make jams and syrups for human consumption.

Dogwood is a year-round favorite that is hardy and likes full sun to partial shade.  Robins, Bluebirds, Cardinals and several other birds eat the berries from the Dogwood in the fall and winter.

American Bittersweet is another favorite and can reach heights of thirty feet if it has something to climb on.  It produces a yellow-green flower in summer and showy orange berries that feed more than a dozen kinds of birds.  It will spread if not kept in control by thinning.

Black Chokeberry is a lovely and low maintenance shrub that produces white flowers in late spring.  It then develops bluish-black fruit that is good for songbirds in the fall and winter.

Winterberry Holly shrub will display breathtaking bright red berries that attract a bevy of songbirds and mammals in the winter.

crabapple-treeCrabapple produces re, pink or white flowers in the spring.  When choosing a Crabapple tree to attract birds, choose a variety that produces fruit under one half inch in diameter.  Birds have trouble handling fruit larger than that.

Virginia creeper is hardy in zones three – none and produces green flowers in the spring and developes dark blue-black berries that are an important food source for migrating birds in the fall and winter.  It is a vigorous grower and can reach fifty feet in sun or shade in fertile well-drained soil.

If you have available space in your yard, try some of these plants, not only to beautify your yard, but also to feed a large variety of birds.  The birds will love it!”

As always, Happy Gardening!

Do you love gardening and would you enjoy passing your knowledge onto others?  Get trained as a Master Gardener through the Extension office in your county.  As a Master Gardener you will improve your gardening skills, teach others, enhance your community and, most of all, you will have fun!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at  The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.