How to Attract Birds with a Bevy of Berrying Plants

Published on November 11th 2020
A small bird perched on a tree branch
Birds bring joy to the garden with their songs and trills, flitting antics, and beautiful plumage. Many species also benefit us by gobbling up or feeding their young copious insects and caterpillars that might otherwise damage our plants. Putting up feeders, birdbaths, and birdhouses is a good way to roll out the welcome mat, but you can really up your bird-habitat game by planting a selection of berrying plants.
Berrying plants have evolved to attract birds (and other animals), which eat the fruit and then disperse the seeds far and wide, helping the plants to reproduce. Plants that produce berries and berry-like fruits are a critically important source of nourishment for resident and migratory birds. They not only help to sustain overwintering native species but also give an energy boost to birds migrating south in the fall and returning north in spring.
A small bird perched on a tree branch
Choose a variety of berrying species to bring in a diversity of species, from ground feeders to treetop grazers, and try to provide year-round food for locals and those passing through. If you have the space, plant multiples of each plant you choose so there’s plenty for the birds to devour and for you to enjoy as winter interest.
Here are my berry-producing, bird-feeding recommendations for Southern to Southwestern gardens.

Agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata or Berberis trifoliolata)

An attractive, holly-like, evergreen shrub with pointy, blue-green leaves and yellow flowers from late winter through spring. Red berries appear in summer. Prefers sun to part shade in well-drained, alkaline soil. It can grow 3-6 feet tall and wide.
Hardiness zone: 7-9

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

A graceful, arching shrub that grows 4-6 feet tall and can thrive in dappled shade to full sun - depending on where you live. Showy, dense clusters of purple berries appear in late summer and last through fall unless the mockingbirds devour them first. Though established plants are drought-tolerant, it does require regular watering - particularly if in a sunny spot.
Hardiness zone: 6-10

Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra)

Barbados Cherry
© Pam Penick
A dense, attractive shrub reaching 4-10 feet tall, that can be pruned into shape like a small tree. A dwarf variety, ‘Nana’, is also available. Clusters of pink flowers bloom on and off from spring through fall, and then red fruits appear.
Hardiness zone: 8b-10

Chile Pequin (Capsicum annuum)

Chile Pequin
© Pam Penick
Also called Bird Pepper for its appeal to our feathered friends. It can grow 2-4 feet tall in sun to dappled shade, and in late summer produces showy, round, bright-red peppers the size of a pencil eraser. The peppers are edible for humans too - if you can handle the heat.
Hardiness zone: 8-10

Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus)

Deciduous, low-growing shrub with clusters of magenta berries fall through winter. Grows 2-4 feet tall and twice as wide. Its spreading habit makes it a good ground cover where it has plenty of room to ramble and naturalize. Can grow in sun or shade and needs medium water.
Hardiness zone: 2-7

Evergreen Sumac (Rhus virens)

Evergreen Sumac
© Pam Penick
A handsome, evergreen tree that grows to 8-12 feet. Clusters of fuzzy, red-orange fruits appear in early fall. Prefers sun to dappled shade. Very drought tolerant.
Hardiness zone: 8-10

Texas Lantana (Lantana horrida or Lantana urticoides)

Attracts butterflies with abundant orange-and-yellow flowers from late spring to fall. Blue-black berries appear as flowers fade. Grows 3-6 feet tall and flowers best in full sun. Watch out for prickly stems when pruning.
Hardiness zone: 8-10

Pigeonberry (Rivina humilis)

An upright, spreading groundcover, 12 to 18 inches tall. Dainty stems of pale-pink flowers produce clusters of red berries, and flowers and berries are often held simultaneously. Thrives in moist but well-drained soil in part shade.
Hardiness zone: 7-10

Possumhaw Holly (Ilex decidua)

Possumhaw Holly
Unusual for a holly, possumhaw is deciduous. When leaves drop in winter, the bright-red berries of female trees sparkle against bare branches. Cedar waxwings and robins devour them during late-winter migrations. Prefers full sun to part shade. 8-12 feet tall and wide.
Hardiness zone: 5-9

Rusty Blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum)

An attractive small tree growing to 18 feet, with nearly black fruits dangling amid reddening leaves in fall. Prefers sun to part shade.
Hardiness zone: 5-9

Southern Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera)

This evergreen small tree makes a good naturalistic hedge. Small glaucous berries appear in winter on female plants. Prefers sun to part shade and needs regular water. 8-12 feet tall.
Hardiness zone: 7-10

Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii)

Spiraling, bright-red flowers on this spreading, deciduous shrub attract hummingbirds in summer. Dark-red fruits appear in fall. Prefers part sun to shade and grows 3-6 feet tall and equally as wide. Cultivars with pink or white flowers are also available.
Hardiness zone: 7b-10

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

A high-climbing or ground-covering vine with deciduous leaves that turn bright shades of red in autumn. Blue berries appear late summer through winter. Best for masonry, not wood or painted surfaces. Prefers sun to part shade.
Hardiness zone: 3-9

Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria)

Evergreen understory tree with small leaves and red berries that appear in autumn on female plants. Prefers sun to part shade and grows 12-25 feet tall.
Hardiness zone: 7-9

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