Shrubs To Feed The Birds


I am writing this during one of the coldest, longest winters that I can remember in the lifetime I’ve lived in Ohio.

It started at Thanksgiving with whiz-bang cold and snow and marched right through December. After a very short respite of January thaw, it dived with a vengeance to lasting frigid temperatures. Let me tell you, that can be hard on the wild creatures.

So how can we plant our gardens to provide food and shelter for the birds that overwinter? Here are a few words to help answer that heartfelt question.


One of the main shows through my living room window is the visitors to my Pyracantha shrub. Every year birds come to feast on the berries, even though they come late. It seems other food sources are their preference, but eventually the Pyracantha coccinea draws them in.

The drawback for firethorns, in my area at least, is that they are not fully hardy for a Zone 5 garden. I have compensated for that by planting my bush on the leeward side of my house. It remains to be seen how hardy many of my plantings are after a season this harsh. Although central Ohio is definitely a cold climate, rarely are the temperatures so frigid for so long.

What varieties are the best bet for far Northern landscapes?  Try ‘Teton’ or ‘Yukon Belle’, instead of the ‘Mohave’ which is the cultivar nestled right up along the side of my house.



Native Berried Bushes

One concern that few of us are aware of ? The poor nutrition that some of the common imported plants provide. Just as in our own diets, there are some source of food which higher nutrition value. I reported on that. Lonicera tartarica was the offender that is referred to as “fast food” for birds.

Native Berries Are Better Planting Choices


  • Sumac: The Staghorn Sumac is tremendously decorative. I grew up with a rather large, venerable one growing in my backyard. The crimson velvet seed heads are beautiful, and the flaming colors of the fall foliage are reason enough to plant it.
  • Winterberry Holly, a shrub that is hardy and provides good winter berries. Ilex verticillata has named varieties to chose from, try ‘Winter Red’. This – like many of the native choices- can get large. It also is dioecious which mean you will need to have a pair, male and female, to produce the berries. A drawback for me is that they grow best in moist, acidic conditions.
  • Aronia arbutifolia is another plant with brilliant fall foliage. It is a native that is hardy and produces plenty of berries. I personally had trouble keeping it, but it is worth trying again. It gets very large, and colonizes if it likes its place.
  • Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, grows more within garden dimensions of 3-5 ft. tall and wide. It is an important food for birds, but be forewarned that deer have a love for its foliage. The purple berries are outstanding.
  • Bayberries: I grow two bayberries that have gotten huge. They are in my “wild” part of the garden (although it seems that most of my garden has gone wild the past decade or so). Two natives are Myrica pensylvanica and M.cerifera. Never having been pruned the bayberries grow widely spreading and open in my rather open prairie spaces.
  • Viburnums: Every one should have at least one of these premier garden shrubs, and now you have another good reason. The native ones are V.dentatum, V.trilobum, V.acerifolium,V.prunifolium.

3 Beautiful Shrubs You Can Order Right Now

I partner with Nature Hills, and they offer some really nice native shrubs, and give interesting information on them, so here are three for you:

Holly – Berry Heavy – $74.90

  • Zones 4-9.
  • Heavy Crops of Bright Red Berries
  • Likes Wet Soils
  • Attracts Wildlife


Coral Berry – Amethyst™ – $45.95

Symphoricarpos x doorenbosii ‘Kordes’

  • White Flowers Mid Summer
  • Persistent Vivid Pink Fruit
  • Deer Resistant


Native American Plum – $66.50

  • Spring and fall display
  • Tasty fruit
  •  Hardy
  • Wildlife interest


Planting nutritious berried shrubs is just one part of the final picture in supporting a healthy bird population.

The inclusion of just a few wisely chosen garden ornaments such as bird baths and feeders, landscaping to provide nesting and cover, practices like more organic and green growing methods will result in more of these very beneficial creatures visiting, encouraging them to stay and help our gardens.

As gardeners we are also stewards of our little piece of the earth. We cultivate and nurture.

We make things beautiful for ourselves,yes, but that should not preclude making it safe and healthy, as well. Logically, that should follow the best design.

All it takes is a bit of education and information to make choices that both please us in our designs and support the welfare of the environment and all its creatures.

Consider Shrubs That Benefit The Environment

 Cedar Waxwing Photo by Doug and Kim Cummins

Cedar Waxwing Photo by Doug and Kim Cummins

See those thorns on the branches in the photo above? That is a Hawthorn, and it draws all sorts of beautiful birds.

When you are ordering from a catalog this winter, or when the weather breaks and you meander among the rows of enticing plants in your local nursery, consider replacing common choices with something more unusual that has added benefits for the environment (including feeding our bird friends).

Lonicera Tartarica, And Other Nuisances

There has been much information on the problems of Lonicera tartarica, once a widely used bush for yards of all kinds, barberries, and Euonymous alata. The latter two, especially, are very decorative. Of these, I pull out self-seeded bush honeysuckles all the time, even though I have never planted one here, myself. I do grow a couple barberries, but now that I am more educated on the problems that such plants are creating in crowding out better wildlife food sources, etc.

I am trying to plant and groom the garden with more natives and less of those introductions that aren’t as good a choice as I once believed. However, I am not fanatical about “only natives”.

I hope you will look into the additions to your garden that serve the ecosystem you live within, and while I know that there are many considerations to take such as disease resistance, deer resistance,… that is all part of the challenge that we have as cultivators of the soil. How to combine plantings in our yards for the best effect, it now holds more meaning than simply color and form.

As a longtime gardener, though, I will tell you that the visits of birds and other wildlife, even the buzz of insects, adds immeasurably to the enjoyment and beauty of a planted place.

window view

pyracantha view

I have written some pages with more about making a gardened place that is friendly to birds. I hope you will continue reading, or bookmark and return to learn more of how easy and delightful a yard can be when created with wildlife in mind.
Garden Birds

Garden Features for Birds

Northern Garden Gazebo Bird Feeder

Birdbaths and feeders both ornament and give important necessities to the avian population.


For Your Bird Friends From Monticello

Bird Feeders For Your Backyard

Other Information

Myrica (or Morella) pensylvanica PDF factsheet.

Callicarpa as an edible

Underused Viburnums

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author


I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of "Ilona's Reflecting Pool". Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. The work on "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.