Give birds a boots of berries

Kidderminster Shuttle: Give birds a boots of berries Give birds a boots of berries

Tips on the best plants to grow for berries which will not only add colour to your garden but attract birds as well - plus, find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.

By Hannah Stephenson


Gardeners should be continuing to refill their bird-feeders and baths during the cooler months, when the birds really need them, but it's worth looking at some berried treasures to plant in borders as well.

Indeed, with some plants, such as pernettya and snowberry, the berries are the main attraction as their flowers are small and insignificant.

Don't just think of red when you consider adding a shrub with berries to your garden. Their colours range from white to black and most colours in between. As they contain the reproductive part of the plant, berries are perfect for increasing your stock of plants.

The birds have a habit of helping with propagation, by spreading seeds all over the garden.

And there are quite a few trees which will provide them with food throughout the autumn and winter months.

The rowan tree, mountain ash and whitebeam, which all belong to the genus Sorbus, carry abundant crops of berries from autumn onwards and provide some fantastic autumn leaf colour as well.

The golden-berried rowan, Sorbus 'Joseph Rock', provides both colour for gardeners and food for blackbirds with its abundant berry crop.

For the best of both worlds, plant a Sorbus sargentiana, which has pinnate leaves which turn brilliant red in autumn, large sticky red buds in winter and huge clusters of white flowers, followed by bright red berries for the birds.

Another good garden stalwart that provides masses of fruit is the herringbone cotoneaster, with its dense tapestry of branches and small, glossy leaves also providing good nesting sites for small birds and homes to many of the insects on which they feed.

It's a compact, deciduous species bearing pinkish white flowers followed by bright red berries and reaches a maximum height of around 1.5m (5ft) and is particularly suitable for training against a sunny wall.

If you prefer orange berries, go for the semi-evergreen C. simonsii, which grows a little taller and produces a new set of leaves in mid-autumn which may last until spring.

Of course, no berry-rich garden should be without at least two varieties of holly, as they need a male and a female to pollinate.

An abundant crop of scarlet or yellow autumn berries should appear as long as a male form of holly is planted near to every three to five female plants.

Often persisting through most of the winter, the fruits provide vital cold-weather food for many types of songbird, while deciduous forms with persistent bright red fruits include 'Sparkleberry' and Ilex verticillata 'Winter Red', with its dark green, toothed foliage.

Birds aren't interested in all berries, which is just as well, because if you only plant their favourites, you may have little colour left by Christmas.

So plant some specimens which the birds will leave alone, such as Skimmia, Aucuba and the guelder rose (Viburnum opulus), which tend to be their least favourites.

Ivy berries, which usually ripen later in the winter when food is scarce, are extremely valuable to bids, while crab apples are also appreciated in winter.

When considering your food supply for the birds, remember that fruiting wall shrubs including pyracantha and flowering quince will need to be pruned after flowering each year to keep them close to the wall.

You may lose a few young berries, but the rest will ripen better and the shrub will look neater if it doesn't outgrow its space.


Best of the bunch - Hedgehog rose (Rosa rugosa)

This is another stalwart for wildlife, as the red hips which appear in autumn provide much-needed food for birds. And it's a great survivor, withstanding neglect and harsh treatment and coming back year after year.

Derived from the Japanese rose, it has upright, thorny stems and repeat-flowers, producing fragrant magenta or white blooms with a centre of yellow stamens, followed by large, tomato-like hips.

Hedgehog roses will grow in any fertile, moist but well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. Every three to four years, cut out one or two old shoots to the ground in winter. If the shape is becoming untidy, wayward shoots can be shortened at any time.


Good enough to eat... Tidying the asparagus bed

Your tasty asparagus spears harvested from April to June may seem many moons away now, but if you want a better crop for next year, it's time to tidy up the bed and it should only take a few minutes.

The asparagus ferns turn yellow as they die down and need to be cut off at ground level to make space for next year's crop.

Also remove weeds from the bed as asparagus does not like competition and mulch the soil generously with well-rotted organic matter.

Anyone growing asparagus will understand how much space it needs. It's a shallow-rooted perennial crop which doesn't like disturbance and occupies the ground full-time, and it takes a couple of years to settle in.

But despite the fact that you can't pick much for the first three years, once established it won't often let you down.

If you do get thin spears, it's generally down to weak plants that have been harvested too early, cut too heavily in previous years or not fed sufficiently.


Three ways to... Save space through design

1. Used raised beds, which maximise planting area. Their retaining walls can double as built-in seating.

2. Incorporate storage alongside or underneath a built-in barbecue.

3. Design overhead beams, covered in climbers, to frame a potting bench that doubles as a tool store.


What to do this week

:: Rake and scarify lawns to remove thatch, moss and other debris.

:: Finish picking ripened marrows and bring them in for winter storage.

:: Pick off yellowing leaves of Brussels sprouts and harvest them when large enough.

:: Collect plant supports and canes to store for winter.

:: Fork over the soil between plants in established borders to loosen the surface. Remove weeds, then spread on a layer of well-rotted compost.

:: Cut down marginal plants as their foliage dies back for the winter.

:: Continue to order fruit trees, bushes, roses and shrubs to plant out over winter.

:: Bring pots of tender bulbs including canna lilies and eucomis into the greenhouse for the winter.

:: Prune out fruited stems from 'Morello' and other varieties of cherries.

:: Plant tulips, setting them up to 15-20cm (6-8in) deep, where you want them to naturalise.

:: Plant out spring bedding including wallflowers, forget-me-nots and primulas for spring flower displays.

:: Lift dahlia tubers as soon as the leaves have been blackened by frost, clean off the soil, cut back stems and leave to drain before storing them in boxes of compost.

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