Plant Fall Berries for Wildlife
In addition to leaving plants with seed heads, such as coneflowers, asters and ornamental grasses to provide food for your wildlife friends through the harshest months, make sure your garden includes native trees and shrubs with late-season berries. The unexpected beauty of berries can take your garden through crisp autumn days and snowy winter landscapes while giving wildlife something to eat.
Of the four F’s – flowers, foliage, form and fruit - fruit, is often the most overlooked and underutilized as a garden-design element. For any garden or yard anywhere, there’s a berry to suit the site, and with colors ranging from red to orange, purple, pink, white, and blue, any color scheme is fair game.
Read on to learn about nine berry-producing plants:
‘Winter Red’ is widely considered the top-dog cultivar of Ilex verticillata, a deciduous holly native to the eastern half of North America. The fireworks of glossy, bright-red berries can run from late summer through early spring (depending on how hungry local birds are), making it a must-have for the winter garden. Prefers moist, rich, slightly acidic soils. Berries are more profuse in full sun. Requires a nearby stud holly (male-flowered) such as ‘Southern Gentleman’, ‘Apollo’, or ‘Raritan Chief’ to form fruit. Zones 3-9.
2. Mountain Ash
Underused as a landscape plant, mountain ashes deserve a closer look for fruit, flowers and blazing fall color. Fruits of most species are orange or red, but some are white (Sorbus hupehensis). Here, the pink-blushed pearls of S. hupehensis ‘Rosea’ are set against its burgundy autumn foliage. Most species are hardy in Zones 4-7.
Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) is another low-key shrub that waits until winter to turn on the charm. Small, yellowish summer flowers turn into purplish-red fruit clustered along arching stems beginning in October. Native throughout much of the United States. Prune in early spring. Quite shade tolerant. Zones 2-7.
4. Tatarian Dogwood
Blue fruit in summer and bare red stems in winter give this shrubby dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’) multiseason appeal. Spreads more slowly than red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea), so it works well in small gardens. Ideal for a hedge or shrub mass. Cut back hard to a foot or less in late winter for a flush of new bright red stem growth. Zones 3-8.
One of my all-time favorite plants—ever. A nondescript shrub until late summer, it’s worth the wait when its tiny pinkish flowers morph into traffic-stopping clusters of small, purple berries. The native Callicarpa americana is close to my heart, but other species are also quite nice. Pictured here is C. bodinieri, beloved of British gardeners. Zones 5-8, though C. americana stretches from Zones 6 to 10.
There are hundreds of crabapples on the market and though famous for their dainty spring flowers, their fall show of fruit (yellow, orange, green, and all shades of red) is invaluable for late-season landscapes. Shown here is Malus transitoria. Close kin to the apple, crabapple fruits are 2 inches or smaller. Pruning is usually unnecessary, but if you must, do it in late winter. Zones 4-7.
Symphoricarpos albus is native to the West and has arching branches that bear beautiful clusters of white berries that last well into winter. This deciduous shrub tolerates a range of soil types, even clay. It has small white and pink flowers in summer that attract butterflies and hummingbirds and is a critical host plant for the Sphinx Moth. Zones 3-7.
As if the delicious deep blue berries of Amelanchier alnifolia weren’t enough, you’ll also enjoy showy white flowers in the spring and gorgeous yellow foliage in the fall. This shrub is often used to fill the role of a small tree and is adaptable to many garden sites. Zones 2-7.
Native to Eastern North America, Aronia melanocarpa, produces black autumn berries and has attractive purple/red fall color. This is a good selection for wet areas, as it will tolerate soggy soils. Because of its tendency to sucker and form colonies, it is often used for mass plantings. Zones 3-8.
- JoEllen Urasky