One of my favorite winter plants for birds is a California
native shrub called a snowberry, or Symphoricarpos albus (also called S.
racemosus). It works well in a
thicket with other plants—think ceanothus, coffeeberry, and vines like the
native clematis—but it can also stand alone in a remote corner of the garden
devoted to wildlife.
Snowberry is like many California
natives in that it can tolerate a fair amount of abuse. It doesn’t require much water and can even
take a little shade. Most of all,
though, it prefers poor soil. Most
experts recommend that you don’t amend your soil at all when planting a native
plant, and try to disturb the root ball as little as possible when you put the
plant in the ground.
typically grows to about four feet and spreads by root suckers, so pick a
location where it can sprawl. It will
establish itself easily on a slope, and is often used for erosion control as
well. The shrub produces leaves that
are somewhat round, about three inches in length, and it offers small white
flowers that bloom in late spring.
once the leaves drop, small berries emerge to offer a wintertime food source to
birds. If you leave the shrub more or
less unattended, allowing the leaves to fall and create a nice litter layer
under the plant, you will also offer an opportunity for birds to forage for
insects under the plant.
Even if you
don’t have space to add a shrub or tree to your landscape, do consider a brush
pile for winter. Autumn prunings,
sunflower stalks, and dead limbs can all sit in a sheltered corner through
winter and provide shelter. You can
even strip the branches off your Christmas tree to add to the pile, or toss the
whole tree on top. This winter debris
will be just as easy to dispose of in spring—perhaps easier, as the pile
decomposes a little and the overall volume reduces. Or you might decide to keep the pile around and integrate it into
your garden. I once allowed sweet peas
to cover a brush pile in my backyard, and there are some lovely
nectar-producing annual vines (like cardinal climber, available from
www.shepherdseeds.com) that will attract hummingbirds in summer. When annual vines are finished blooming, you
can simply pull them out by the roots and allow them to become part of the
brush pile. The birds will appreciate
the added shelter.