Friday, August 7, 2009

Landscapes For Feathered Friends

By Kent Higgins

Beauty and Utility

The highly decorative flowering crabapples are choice trees for the purpose in attracting flying wildlife. Those with the smaller fruits seem to be more favored by the birds. First to be eaten will be the abundant, beautiful scarlet fruits of the Sargent Crabapple (Malus sargenti), lowest growing of the family (up to 8 feet) but wide spreading. By winter the fruits of Malus floribunda will be taken, while those on Malus seiboldi will provide late-winter food.

The European Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia), or Rowan Tree as it is known abroad, produces spectacular clusters of orange fruits that are as delectable to Waxwings, Robins, and other birds, as the foliage, unfortunately, is to Japanese beetles. The native Mountain Ash (S. americana) is equally interesting to the birds but poorer in form and more difficult to purchase.

The hawthorns, too, are widely used ornamentals which produce abundant, colorful food. English Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha) is perhaps the best of half a dozen fine bird-attracting varieties. Cockspur Thorn (C. crus-galli), Washington Hawthorn (C. phaenopyrum), and Arnold Hawthorn (C. arnoldiana) are among the most widely planted for this purpose. All of these hawthorns require full sun, and well-drained soil.

Popular Dogwoods

Popular with man and bird alike is the lovely Flowering Dogwood, whose showy red fruits are eaten by no less than 93 species.

Of the shrub Dogwoods, we have found that the migrating Thrushes prefer the blue berries of the Silky Cornel (Cornus amomum). Generally they are all eaten by mid-October. Gray Dogwood (C. paniculata) and Redosier (C. stolonifera) also give excellent results.

Evergreens like the aglaonema chinese evergreen add much to the gardens year round beauty and to its success in attracting birds. Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is among the best. Unfortunately it is an alternate host for the cedar-apple rust and should not be planted in the vicinity of apple orchards. Elsewhere it serves a triple purpose: excellent cover, fine nesting sites, and choice winter food. The blue-gray fruits are eaten by more than a score of birds. Both staminate and pistillate trees must be present to produce fruit. This is also necessary to produce berries on the showy American Holly (llex opaca), and Black Alder or Winterberry (I. verticillata), both favorites of many birds. Ordinarily, the latter holds its fruits into mid-winter, as its name suggests. This past year, though, we watched flocks of Robins and Bluebirds completely strip several heavily laden bushes by early November, though the majority of the plants such as chinese evergreen were untouched until later.

For planting around the trees, the suburban gardener has a wide choice of shrubs, with barberries, blackberries and raspberries, blueberries and huckleberries, buckthorns, chokeberries, cotoneasters, dogwoods, honeysuckles, and viburnums all highly recommended.

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and Alder-Buckthorn (R. frangula) reach a height of 15 to 18 feet, and are considered by some authorities to be the most effective of all shrubs in attracting birds. Buckthorn is not recommended, however, in areas where oats are grown because it harbors oat rust.

Perhaps the most popular plants, in the gardeners estimation, are the viburnums. The majority of them are noted for their brightly colored fruits, either at maturity or at some time during ripening. Some are notable, too, for their blossoms or their fall foliage, or both.

Most widely planted is the vigorous growing European Cranberrybush (V. opulus) which closely resembles the native High-bush Cranberry (V. trilobum). Unfortunately, its brilliant red fruits are much tarter than those of V. trilobum which are used in making preserves. The birds evidently find the berries unpalatable until they have frozen and thawed a number of times. In late winter they are greedily eaten, by flocks of wandering Waxwings and by Robins and Bluebirds migrating northward.

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