Birds are probably the most welcomed visitors to any garden—not only do they exhibit such beauty and grace, but they also make your garden sounds as pretty as it looks! One of the best ways to attract these feathered beauties to your landscape is with plants that bear edible berries.
If you’ve ever tried growing blueberries or raspberries for yourself, you might have already noticed that birds like to graze on them for breakfast just as much as we do. Sometimes it seems like we’re in a race to be the first to pick the next wave of ripe berries! Whether you’re trying to attract birds to your yard, or distract them from other edibles in your garden, try growing these plants—each with edible berries that are simply for the birds!
In the fall, this medium-sized bush becomes bogged down with enormous bundles of small, black berries. These berries have a bitter taste to people, but robins, bluebirds, catbirds, and other songbirds seem to love them. While they’re considered edible, we’ll warn against trying to eat them before they’re ripe—they’re poisonous before they turn black. In fact, even after ripening, it’s better to cook elderberries before consuming them.
Elderberry bushes provide additional interest in the landscape with their bright red stems. They’re also quite lovely in the spring and summer before their clusters of tiny white flowers fade to form the fruit. You may even find some cultivars with enchanting purple foliage or variegated leaves.
Also known as chokeberry, this native shrub provides early-spring blooms, sweet summertime berries, and fantastic fall color that adds beauty to the garden all year long. In Virginia, Maryland, and other Eastern states, both red chokeberries and black chokeberries are native. While you might see black chokeberries more often in the mountains, they still thrive when planted in our zone, and seem to be preferred over red chokeberries by the birds. You’ll notice that winter birds, such as cardinals, are especially fond of the antioxidant-rich fruit.
Serviceberry shrubs are deciduous plants that can range from small shrubs to trees reaching more than 25 feet tall. They offer four-season interest with their dainty spring flowers, summer berries, fall color, and attractive winter bark. Birds can’t seem to get enough of the sweet, dark purple berries! With one of these shrubs lining your pathway or standing tall in your backyard, you’ll notice many species—including thrushes, woodpeckers, and waxwings—flocking to your garden.
Serviceberries are safe to eat fresh, but their sweet, nutty flavor is also a great addition to pies, jams, wines, and ciders. They may also be dried and added to cereals and trail mixes.
This tree bears large, partitioned fruits—sort of like raspberries, but slightly longer (and grown from a tree rather than a small shrub). While there are also black or white mulberry species that can grow here, red mulberries are native to our neck of the woods. In fact, we advise against planting white mulberry trees as they are considered invasive and can displace our native species.
Many of our feathered friends will flock to your garden for a taste of these sweet, juicy berries, including quail, catbirds, thrashers, and bluebirds, among others. Not only does this shrub attract these berry-loving birds, but its nectar-rich flowers also attract many insects, and therefore will attract bug-eating birds, too!
American beautyberry bushes are famed for their one-of-a-kind, bright magenta berries, earning them their namesake. Many gardeners plant these gorgeous shrubs to add unique fall and winter interest to their landscape, but unsurprisingly, many of the berries don’t last until winter. This is simply because they’re such an important food source for our beloved native birds!
Robins, thrashers, cardinals, mockingbirds, finches, and towhees go nuts for beautyberries—as do other wildlife, such as squirrels, raccoons, and foxes. Although beautyberry is more common in the south, this plant’s range stretches far enough up the east coast to include areas of Maryland.
Birds eat berries for the same reasons we do—they provide energy, they’re full of antioxidants, and above all, they taste great! Choosing plants with berries also add extraordinary interest to your landscape all year long. Berries often cling on to branches until spring, offering exceptional winter appeal, and provide a reliable source of food for winter birds.
Looking for berries that birds love in Alexandria, VA? Stop by Greenstreet Gardens at one of our two Alexandria locations, or our garden center in Lothian, MD, to see our selection of trees and shrubs!