There is something magical about watching birds feed in your own garden. But it’s not just about putting out bird food. What we grow in our gardens can be a vital lifeline too.
As winter approaches there is much we can do to help wildlife get through the cold bleak months. Autumn is the ideal time to plant a tree. Choose wisely and your garden trees will provide shelter, protection and a rich supply of sustainable food in terms of berries, fruit and even seeds and nuts. Trees not only host nesting, song posts and habitat to hide in but also yield many insects such as caterpillars, moths and spiders, which are a natural food source for birds.
Select the right tree for your garden. Note growth and overall height; choose trees that will not out grow their space in a few years and ideally a mix of evergreen and deciduous. Whatever your sized plot, there is always space for a tree…even in a pot! Trees are sold in containers, air-pots, bagged or root-balled where roots and soil are cut out of the ground and wrapped in a hessian sack but one of the cheapest and lightest ways to purchase a tree is to buy a bare-root specimen.
Trees can add all year round interest to your garden in the shape of spring flowers, colour-changing foliage, structure and berries as well as helping to combat climate change as they lock in carbon, so it is great for you, the planet and the birds. So what to plant?
Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris)
Malus has to be the ‘go to’ fab small tree for all year round interest. Spring brings exquisite blooms covering the branches like butterflies followed in summer and autumn by petite fruit which not only look stunning but birds flock to feast …and if there are any left you could make homemade crab apple jelly!
‘Golden Hornet’ and ‘Butterball’ produce honey-yellow round fruits; these easy-to-grow heavy croppers literally drip with fruit from a compact hardy tree topping out around four metres. Or try ‘Sun Rival’ for red fruits sweeping down weeping branches. Crab apple trees are pollinators for most other apple trees so a very worthwhile addition to the garden.
It’s easy to mistake Cotoneaster solely as a shrub. The common sprawl of horizontalis clinging up walls and self-seeding wherever its berries drop can be invasive but it is also a magnificent tree.
Cotoneaster lacteus (evergreen), hybridus, frigidus, or x watereri ‘Cornubia’ (semi-evergreen) are ideal for small to large sized gardens, depending on cultivar and boast a berry banquet for birds as the tree becomes ladened with bright red bauble bunches from late summer. Also perfect for pollinators with its pollen and nectar rich flowers.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Native Hawthorn is a versatile hedge or tree. The dense twigs and thorns provide ideal protection against predators, safe nesting and are a welcomed sign of spring as they become weighed down in blossom.
The fruit or ‘haws’ are a magnet for wildlife and provide food for hundreds of insects, pollinators, mammals and birds; in particular it is a favourite of woodpigeons, tits, thrushes, redwings and waxwings.
Rowan, Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia)
Rowan, Sorbus or Mountain Ash, whatever you prefer to call it this fruitful tree would be at home in most gardens. This is a tough workhorse that requires little maintenance but delivers on productivity. Late summer brings a shower of bright orange or red berries that are a big hit with birds especially waxwings, redwings, thrushes and blackbirds.
If you fancy something a little different then try ‘Joseph Rock’ for yellow berries and outstanding red leaves or Sorbus vilmorinii boasts flamboyant pink berries. Happy to grow at attitude in mountainous regions, they can live for 200 years and reach a lofty 15 metres but are easily kept under control in a domestic garden.
Also know as Juneberry or Snow mespilus, Amelanchier is a perfect single or multi-stemmed deciduous tree for small gardens and has a host of benefits for birds. A multitude of white flowers are followed by bronze leaves, which turn through orange and red hues in autumn and produce beautiful dark purple fruits, which the birds greedily gobble up.
There are around ten species of Amelanchier so also worth checking out x grandifora ‘Robin Hill,’ ‘Rubescens’ and ‘Ballerina’ or the exquisite foliage and flowers of A. laevis. If you want to give birds a further helping hand in your garden why don’t you install a nesting box, a bird table and feeders, add a bird bath or pond as a water source and pile up logs to attract mini bugs for birds to forage. Your garden will become a bird haven, which you and the birds can enjoy all year round.