10 Plants for Bringing Birds to Your Winter Garden
Shrubs to Attract Birds
Shrubs provide essential shelter for birds year-round. Evergreen shrubs provide more protection from the cold, windy winter weather, but even deciduous shrubs give birds a safer place to rest than out in the open. Flowering shrubs that produce berries late in the year also provide a valuable winter food source.
A native shrub to the Eastern U.S., Red Chokeberry blooms in spring with white flowers that give way to red berries starting in the fall and through December. Birds that eat the berries include cedar waxwings, northern flickers, and thrushes. Red Chokeberry bushes grow 6 to 10 feet tall and have a spread of 3 to 5 feet, and do well in mass plantings.
Judd Viburnum is a garden highlight in the spring, when it blooms with sweetly fragrant light pink flower clusters. Later in the year, the flowers develop into black winter berries that birds love. Judd Viburnum grows 6 to 8 feet both tall and wide, and can be used as a shrub hedge or natural screening fence.
Another viburnum, the Blue Berry Viburnum (also known as the Arrowwood Viburnum) has white flower clusters with no fragrance in late spring. The berries these flowers produce provide food for many types of birds, including mockingbirds and cardinals. The Blue Berry Viburnum grows 6 to 10 feet tall and also makes an excellent privacy hedge.
Many holly plants are evergreen, but the Berry Heavy Winterberry Holly is deciduous, with its leaves giving way to bright red berries that stand out against the starkness of a winter garden. These berries also easily attract a variety of birds, including cedar waxwings and catbirds. The Berry Heavy Winterberry Holly is a smaller shrub, growing 6 to 8 feet tall. You will need the male plant (Jim Dandy) for female plants to produce berries.
5. Witch Hazel
Witch Hazel is a little different from the other shrubs on this list, because instead of flowers in the warmer months and berries in the winter, this plant blooms with yellow flowers in late winter. The flowers attract insects, which in turn become a food source for birds. A native shrub to the Eastern U.S., Witch Hazel can grow up to 20 feet tall, but can be kept smaller with regular pruning.
Trees to Attract Birds
Evergreen trees or trees with dense branches provide sturdy winter shelter for birds, while trees with winter fruit provide an additional food source.
A native tree in the Eastern and Midwest U.S., persimmon trees produce fruit in the fall that often stays on the trees into winter. The persimmon fruit can be harvested for use by humans, but leaving some fruit for the birds will help them through the harsh winter months. Persimmon trees grow to 30 to 50 feet tall at maturity.
The Magnolia virginiana australis is evergreen in southern regions, while further north in zones 5 and 6 it is often semi-evergreen. Its large leaves offer year-round protection for birds, and they also eat the seeds produced by this Magnolia in the fall.
The Nellie R Stevens Holly is an evergreen holly tree that grows 20 to 30 feet tall. Its evergreen foliage provides shelter for birds throughout the winter, and like other holly plants, it produces berries in the winter that birds love.
Grasses to Attract Birds
Grasses, like shrubs and trees, provide both protection and food for birds. Long ornamental grasses that stay upright through the winter are great places for birds to hide in and keep warm, while grass seeds are a long-lasting food source.
Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ is a tall and sturdy ornamental grass. It keeps its shape through the winter, standing up to harsh weather and providing a safe place for birds and other small animals. This switch grass variety grows 4 to 5 feet tall and also looks nice in the winter garden, with golden foliage and silver-yellow seed heads.
Another ornamental grass that keeps standing tall throughout the winter, Karley Rose Fountain Grass grows 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. In the growing season, it has dark green leaves and pinkish flowers on long plumes. These fade to attractive yellow foliage and seed heads in the fall and winter. Plant Karley Rose Fountain Grass in groups to provide ground-level shelter for birds in the winter.