As temperatures drop and food becomes scarce, common garden plants can provide a valuable food source for birds.
Even in a small garden, planting certain plants and using them in a certain way can make a big difference, and keep much-loved garden birds visiting your plot all year around.
Winter berries are a good place to start. Hollies are the obvious choice but do remember you’ll need to select a female variety – only these will produce berries – and hope there is male nearby to fertilise it.
Selecting your winter shrubs
First and foremost, we’d recommend Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Mermaid’, it responds well to pruning if it gets out of hand and has lovely green and cream variegation.
Cotoneaster are best suited to the smaller garden, with many able to be trained against a wall or even tumbling out of a pot. They’re really good for covering unsightly fences or parts of a building, and blackbirds and thrushes love the nutritious berries.
Rosehips can also be a staple of any garden. Leave spent flowers on your rose bush through winter and delay pruning until February, so that these glorious seed pods can establish themselves. Fieldfares and mistle thrushes will thank you in particular for letting the rosehips develop, and you will thank yourself if you choose to make some Rosehip jelly. Selecting some roses? We’d recommend starting which Rosa rugosa, which is famed for its large autumn hips.
Beyond the Berries
It’s not just berries that are needed to support birdlife outside of the summer months. Flowers and dried seed heads are equally as important.
Late-flowering plants such as ivy, which usually flowers in autumn, attract lots of different pollinating insects which garden birds such as robins subsequently feed on. The flowers are followed by berries of course – a bonus for jays, waxwings and starlings.
There are many different plants which can be left to set seed and dry. Our favourite is Dipsacus fullonum ‘Teasel’, with its tall, striking, thistle-like flowers. They’re a great source of food for goldfinches and sparrows but you must be prepared for this biennial to pop up everywhere the following year if you let it set seed. However, in many cases this can also be desirable – particularly in informal, more naturalistic planting schemes.
To summarise then – think before you chop! Can those herbaceous borders be left a little longer before tidying up in autumn? Could the roses be pruned a little later? Can that hedge be cut a little less often? We know a few feathered friends who would think so.