Planting Trees and Shrubs for Garden Birds

 Providing ‘natural’ food for the tits, sparrows or thrushes that visit our gardens is something really positive that we can do during the winter months.  Although native is usually best if you are planting a hedge, it is not always possible to change an existing hedge of privet for example, but it is sometimes possible to add other shrubs that are very wildlife friendly.  There are plenty of shrubs that have tasty berries to appeal to birds and these , if chosen carefully, can also provide thick shelter from the worst winter weather as well as supplying natural nesting places in spring to supplement your nest boxes. 

Over the next couple of months we can add to existing hedges if we have gaps or plant new hedgerows to replace worn out fencing, or you could create a ‘mini-woodland’ by planting a corner of your garden with prickly, berried shrubs that provide food and shelter as well as a colourful focal point for several months. If you have space a rowan would be a great addition, proving berries for thrushes including the mistle thrush (above). Include a taller shrub such as a hazel or goat willow at the back and add a bark mulch beneath to complete your tiny woodland habitat. Try native shrubs such as blackthorn, hawthorn, spindle, dogwood and guelder rose for a two-fold benefit.  These species provide not just berries for winter thrushes, but will support a vast number of small invertebrates for adult birds such as blue tits and great tits, wrens and robins throughout the year, plus a plentiful supply for their chicks in the nest in spring.  Hawthorn and blackthorn also have the added advantage of natural prickly protection from predators, as does holly.  Hazel will keep your local nuthatches happy once it starts to bear nuts as well as grace your garden with catkins in March and April, and goat willow supports a huge number of invertebrates, second only to the mighty oak.  Both can be ‘coppiced’ or cut to the ground every few years.  Look for nurseries who supply these species as bare-rooted shrubs.  Planted over the next few months, they will quickly overtake their pot grown counterparts and save you money too. 

If natives aren’t your thing or lack of space means you can’t cope with fast growing shrubs, there are still plenty of choices to enhance the winter beauty of your garden and help your local birds.  Varieties of Berberis, Pyracantha and Cotoneaster supply tasty berries, but look out for red-berried types rather than yellow or orange.  Pretty as these variations are, as a general though not exclusive rule, the berries seem to be less appealing to our native birds.  As dense, prickly shrubs they will also make excellent nest sites come breeding time.  Pot grown shrubs such as these can be established now to allow them time to settle down and grow away well in the spring.

Whatever you decide to plant, take a little care with your new shrub, whether native or not. A decent sized planting hole, some compost in the bottom and a mulch after firming in, will see it through the winter.  Water in dry weather and your efforts will be rewarded with a long term solution to natural food and shelter for your local birds. 


© Text and photographs Jenny Steel 2017