chokeberries

Chokeberries. Weird name, right?

You know you have reached a certain age when watching birds at the feeder is your favorite winter pastime.

Nearly there, almost there … very soon I will be that age.

My bird community receives an ice cream pail of seed every day and it’s usually gone by early afternoon. Another way to feed the birds is to plant shrubs and trees that produce edible fruits for birds throughout the year.

Elderberry, cherries and grapes are eaten as soon as they are sugared up and ready for us to eat. Wait one day too long and — poof! — they’re gone.

Other fruits such as crabapples, ready to eat in summer, aren’t eaten by birds until after they have frozen and become softer to consume. Of course, there are always exceptions depending on the birds in your area and the amount of available food.

Many of the fruiting shrubs are better suited for the back of the property in urban areas, and anywhere in rural areas. These shrubs are not as neat and tidy as spireas or hydrangeas. One of my favorites is the American Cranberry, Viburnum trilobum. This shrub produces goodness all season, with beautiful clusters of red berries that hang on all winter. Spring branches are covered with clusters of white flowers and in mid-summer green berries are produced and turn red as the season comes to an end.

Weirdberries

  • Chokeberries (not to be confused with chokecherries) is another fruiting shrub I have grown for about 20 years and they still look great.

The botanical name is Aronia melancarpo and the common name is black chokeberry. They are also available in red or purple berries. After the leaves fall, the berries are more noticeable. The berries are about the size of a large blueberry and very astringent. Total face curl if eaten raw; sometimes you just gotta try it for yourself!

They are edible and used in wines, jellies, salsas, pharmaceuticals and are also added to food products as a natural colorant. The birds and browsers ignore them until spring as they likely don’t prefer face curling astringent fruits either. The berries are usually gone by spring, so some desperate animal had lunch at some point.

Chokeberry is like the American Cranberry and other fruit shrubs that claim to hold their fruit, or fruit persists during winter. Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana, is a sturdy evergreen providing bird food and winter cover.

  • Juniper has blue-grey fruits the resemble berries, but they are actually fused cones. Evergreen trees are critical for winter cover for birds. Last week, for instance, I was out working in the 30-mph gusty winds, wondering why I hadn’t gotten all my outdoor work done already. Taking a cue from the birds, I stepped in between two evergreens and what a difference that made in wind velocity. Naturally, I had to step back and forth a few times to really understand the difference it made. Significant.
  • Another notable favorite of mine is the American Beautyberry — Callicarpa Americana. This shrub produces pinkish/purple/red clusters of berries on long stems. Although this shrub is rated for zone 5-8, I have grown a group of these shrubs here in zone 4 for 20 years with no die out. The stems are great for fall floral work or stuffed in holiday planters.
  • A flowering shrub/small tree that has a lot of varieties to choose from is Service Berry – Amelanchier. This shrub provides spring-flowering, fall-colored leaves and fruits, a win-win shrub. This shrub has tiny fruits on some varieties and larger fruits like Saskatoon berries.
  • The elusive Elderberry fruit is well loved by my community of birds. Yes, they still get all of them every year … I have yet to get any! Elderberry shrubs, Sambucus, have gotten very popular in the form of pharmaceuticals in the last several years. There are so many to choose from. Pick a few to include in your next yard update.

For those of us who have a few plants still in pots, don’t give up! If you can still dig in the soil, plant them! If not, pile leaves and/or snow on the pots until they’re completely covered. If you have trees in pots, be sure to wrap the trunk, the rabbits don’t care if it’s planted in the ground or still in a pot.

Drummers Garden Center will again be hosting the Winter Farmers’ Markets. The dates are 10 a.m. to noon Dec. 21, Jan. 4 and 18 and Feb. from 10 a.m. – noon.