Birds' best friends in winter

Phyl Boyce


Phyl Boyce

Birds' best friends in winter

Pyracantha (firethorn) is a plant enjoying a huge surge in popularity. This is easy to understand, as pyracanthas are some of the most versatile evergreens. They can be planted as an ornamental and vandal proof hedge or they can be trained to cover a garden wall or fence.

In late spring the branches are covered in a mass of small white flowers like the hawthorn blooms. In autumn the plant is covered with berries in vibrant colours like white, yellow, and red which will last until they are eaten by birds in December.

Pyracanthas will grow happily in most fertile, well drained soils in full sun or partial shade. Plant them in autumn or spring, working in plenty of well rotted manure or garden compost into the soil before planting. One of the most popular ways of growing pyracanthas is to train them into a formal shape such as an espalier on a wall or fence. To cover a small area a trellis is suitable. For a large area use wires attached to a wall or fence posts. Leave a vertical gap of 18 inches between the wires so you can train the plant to any size you want. To train a newly planted pyracantha, tie its strongest branches to the wire on either side of the main stem and remove any small unwanted branches. In subsequent years continue to tie branches onto the support wire to extend the framework. In June when the berries have set remove unwanted growth on the top and prune away unwanted growth so that the berries can be seen and enjoyed more easily.

Ilex verticillata (winterberry) is a deciduous shrub that is grown for its display of berries from late autumn onwards. The leafless stems are laden with red berries through the winter. The plant is a slow maturing medium-size shrub that will grow to about 8 feet tall. The plant thrives in full sun in an acid, organic enriched moist to wet soil. In alkaline soils growth can be stunted and chlorosis (yellowing) of the leaves can occur. To produce berries on the female plant a male plant is also required.

Cotoneasters are mainly grown for their clusters of small berries in reds and orange. Rosa rugosa is a dense vigorous rose which produces a succession of flowers in summer. These are followed in late summer by large coloured hips.

Sorbus (mountain ash) is a genus of about 100 species of deciduous trees and shrubs grown mainly for their white, yellow and red berries. They are ideal as a specimen tree in a small garden.

Skimma is an evergreen shrub grown for their attractive glossy leaves, flowers and large red berries which last all the year round, birds do not eat them. To obtain berries a male and female plant must be planted in the garden.

Pernettya is a small evergreen shrub, 2-3 feet tall, that produces tiny flowers in June. In autumn and winter it produces bright marble sized berries in a range of colours such as white, red and purple. Plant in autumn or spring in moist well drained acid soil in sunny position. A male and female plant is required to produce berries.

Ugni molinae is a small evergreen shrub that used to be called myrtus ugni. It is a native of Chile and Argentina. It has dark green leaves and produces fragrant pink-tinged white flowers in summer. The flowers are followed by dark purple red berries in autumn. It is a frost tender plant that lives a moist, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade with shelter from cold, drying winds. Give the plant alight pruning in spring to maintain its shape and size.

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This is the ideal time to plant deciduous shrubs and trees, provided the soil is not too sticky. Plant them at the same depth as they were before or matching the depth of the pot they were in and firm the soil after planting. Planting a tree is one great way to reduce our carbon emissions.