The Perfect Bird-Friendly Evergreen Plants
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of my favorites is the Nellie Stevens Holly. Named for a school teacher from the 1800’s 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 part 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.
The Evergreen Sumac has a moderate growth rate and reaches 8 to 10 feet in sun to part 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 (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.