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The Perfect Bird-Friendly Evergreen Plants

Connie knows how very important natural habitats are to our bird populations. That's why she loves bird-friendly flowers, shrubs and trees.

Black-capped chickadee in hemlock tree

Black-capped chickadee in hemlock tree

Imagine you’re a bird. Let’s say you’re a chickadee because they are such energetic and curious little things. You’re looking for a great place to live and raise a family. If, as you are flying over various places of human habitat you should spot a dense, green hedge, wouldn’t you be compelled to investigate? After all, it would provide lots of protection from bad weather, not to mention possible predators. There would be plenty of places to meet and greet other birds. Chickadees are very social and love to ‘tweet’ and ‘twitter’ amongst themselves just like humans!

Then there is the potential for great nesting spots. To a little bird, this hedge has it all. We’re not talking formally pruned plants that go on forever. In fact, as far as a bird is concerned, it really doesn’t matter how far this hedge reaches. Just planting one dense evergreen would do just fine.

In addition, it would provide a natural windbreak for other plants in your landscape. Another plus presents itself should you have a deer problem. Surround your plants with a tall hedge, and you automatically protect your gardens from deer damage.

gray squirrel in American holly tree

gray squirrel in American holly tree

Now there are several very fast-growing, dense and beautiful specimens you might want to consider for your new evergreen planting. The American Holly Tree is very attractive to birds and humans as well. It produces lovely red berries and has a beautiful upright conical tree shape. American Holly trees maintain their evergreen foliage through all seasons. This makes them ideal for winter interest to us humans, and winter protection for our feathered friends (and other wildlife).

American Holly trees are hardy from zones 5-9 and grow up to 30’ tall and 10’ wide at maturity. They rapidly become taller at about 2’ per year and are disease and pest resistant. These trees are very easy to grow in just about any soil from clay to sand, moist to well-drained. They are fairly drought resistant and prefer full sun to light shade. Plant them 4 to 5 feet apart, and they will quickly fill in. The new growth has a pretty red tint that then becomes green.

Thuja Green Giant

Thuja Green Giant

Another fast-developing evergreen is the Thuja Green Giant. They don’t throw that word ‘giant’ around for nothing. It gains 3 to 5 feet per year after it has been established, and reaches 20 to 30 feet at maturity. It is hardy in zones 3-9 and requires no pruning. It’s easy to grow, drought, disease, deer and insect resistant. It doesn’t matter what soil you have; it will adapt. Thujas resist snow and ice damage and prefer full to part sun.

Willow Hybrid tree

Willow Hybrid tree

You might want to check out Willow Hybrid Trees. Don’t let the ‘willow’ part fool you. They are not weeping willows, but extremely fast-growing upright trees. In fact, they can grow from 50 to 75 feet high. They make a wonderful hedge or screen and prefer moist, well-drained soil and full to part sun and are hardy from zones 2-9.

Nellie R. Stevens Holly

Nellie R. Stevens Holly

One of my favorites is the Nellie Stevens Holly. Named for a school teacher from the 1800s who lived in Oxford, Md., the dense, dark green foliage and prolific red berries make it a favorite of birds and humans alike. Widely adaptable and easy to grow in poor soil, it laughs at drought and thrives on neglect. Use it as a screen or plant individual specimens. Growing as much as a foot per year, it should be pruned in early spring (if at all) before new growth starts.

Other choices to think about are the fast-growing viburnum pragense, which is a broadleaf evergreen that blooms in May with beautiful and fragrant ivory flowers, and the wax myrtle; the moderately fast-growing evergreen sumac (rhus virens) as well as the slow-growing yaupon (ilex vomitoria), which is very attractive to wildlife.

The Viburnum Pragense is a magnet to birds and butterflies and resists insects and disease. It loves full sun but will tolerate part shade. It is hardy in zones 5-8, grows to 12 feet tall and 10 to 12 feet wide. In fall it produces beautiful berries and would work well as a screen or hedge.

Wax myrtle (Morella cerifera) was a favorite of the American colonists and prized for its spicy, fragrant light blue berries. The berries have a waxy coating and contain a fatty substance that appeals to wildlife; especially birds including turkeys, quail, bluebirds, warblers, bobwhites, catbirds, vireos and tree swallows.

This popular landscape shrub grows into a dense hedge that usually reaches about 12 feet high. Plant in zones 7 to 10 in moist sandy loam. The native plants can be found along streams, in marshlands and swampy areas. It thrives in sun to partial shade and must be watered daily until established, after which it becomes moderately drought tolerant.

It is necessary to plant both male and female specimens close together in order for them to produce berries. It is somewhat deer resistant and is the food plant for the Red-banded Hairstreak butterfly. Wax myrtle is a shrub well-worth the effort because of its fragrance, interesting dense evergreen foliage and color, and benefit to wildlife.

Rhus Virens  (evergreen sumac)

Rhus Virens (evergreen sumac)

The Evergreen Sumac has a moderate growth rate and reaches 8 to 10 feet in sun to partial shade. Space plants 6 to 8 feet apart for a hedge or dense screen. The fragrant white flowers are beloved by birds, bees and butterflies. It is drought and cold tolerant, and low maintenance, sporting gorgeous red berries in winter. Growing easily on rocky, dry hillsides it is a nectar source for butterflies. Grow it in zones 7 to 10.

Yaupon Holly

Yaupon Holly

Yaupon Holly (ilex vomitoria) can grow up to 25 feet tall and produces beautiful white flowers and loads of red berries. Both male and female plants must be grown close together to produce berries. It grows in any soil, sun to part shade in zones 7 to 9, and is the host plant for Henrys Elfin Butterfly; also moderately deer resistant. This slow-growing plant produces a thick and dense interior and is a favorite of birds and butterflies.

If you are considering adding any plantings to your landscape, you might want to make them do double duty by pleasing both you and your backyard birds. How about mixing and matching different evergreens for a charmingly unique setting? You will see an increase in grateful feathered visitors while enjoying some very beautiful new evergreen shrubs or trees that provide year-round interest for you, and protection for your backyard bird gang.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Connie Smith


Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 24, 2012:

You are welcome Carlos! If you like hollies, but don't wish to attract squirrels and woodpeckers, then how about a Nellie R. Stevens holly bush. I love mine, and they do not seem to attract anything but small songbirds that like to hide among the branches. They are very hardy and don't mind snow and drought. Just a thought! Thanks for stopping by.

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 24, 2012:

Thanks Lilleyth!

carlos on April 22, 2012:

Thanks for the info. I like american hollies but do not want to attract squirrels and woodpeckers around my house. I guess I have reconsider what to plant.

Suzanne Sheffield from Mid-Atlantic on March 11, 2012:

Great hub!

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on January 31, 2012:

Hi Trinsick, thanks for stopping by. Darn that Mary Poppins for making it seem so easy! It does take a lot of patience to get a bird to land on your hand. Having a handful of sunflower seeds helps, along with days and days of standing or sitting perfectly still in the same spot. I was surprised one day to have a chickadee actually land on my hat while I was filling the feeder. That was awesome, and it only took about 35 years for it happen! I hope you are able to attract lots of birds. It really is well worth the effort. I enjoyed your story, thanks for sharing it with me.

Trinsick from Cali on January 30, 2012:

When I was younger I got this bird call and was so excited to call birds onto my hand like mary poppins but it didn't work out so well, I think I'll try some of your tips out to attracting birds

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on January 30, 2012:

Hello Nell Rose. So glad you stopped in! We have Kites here as well, but not in my neck of the woods. You are very lucky to have them so nearby. It was fun to read about your goldcrest birds and squirrels. Hedges and living green screens are wonderful areas for all wildlife to gather. My Mom had a natural hedgerow between her property and her neighbor in our rural area. It was filled with all kinds of beautiful birds, rabbits, quail, bobwhites, pheasants and wild turkeys, and visited daily by deer and coy dogs. I was indeed blessed to live right there while growing up. This is what keeps me grounded! Thank you so much for the vote and for the share.

Nell Rose from England on January 29, 2012:

Hi, this is such a lovely hub, I had never seen a chickadee before, don't think we have them in England, maybe we do but under a different name, and as you say the bushes are so important for the birds and other wildlife, I am lucky to have Kites living in the trees next to me, they are like eagles but are a golden color, the hedges underneath them have so much wildlife, from goldcrest birds, to squirrels up the trees too! rated up and shared!

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on January 28, 2012:

Thank you Seeker7. I'm so glad you stopped by, and that you appreciated all the information and the photos. My favorite is the holly, too. I planted 2 specimens many years ago and nurtured them carefully. The second winter was very hard with lots of deep snow and bitter cold temperatures. Much to my chagrin I realized the deer had used my little holly bushes for lunch and dinner! I was sure they were finished. But that spring they had doubled in size and thereafter produced loads of berries! I'm glad they sustained the deer at a tough time, and I'm doubly glad that the deer know how to prune holly much better than I ever could! Thanks for the Votes and all your wonderful, positive comments. You have always given me such good support!

Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on January 27, 2012:

This is a really beautiful hub - the photographs are stunning. I loved all the Holly varieties - Holly is one of my long time favourites. But I also liked Viburnum Pragense - I haven't seen this plant before and the flowers + the leaves make this so beautiful. To top it all its also a plant that will help our birds and other wildlife, so it's a definite winner with me.

A beautiful hub with great information on not only how to liven up our gardens, but more importantly how to help our wildlife as well! Voted up + awesome + beautiful!

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