"I am interested in planting bushes/trees that will produce fruit that birds like to eat. Can you recommend any that will not take long to bear? I'm 76 years old." - Thanks, Nancy J
This e-mail made me smile. Nancy is not alone. I've had many requests for berry-bearing trees and shrubs, and most folks want quick results. Of course, the answer for quick results is to plant big. If you can afford to plant a more mature plant, it will produce more fruit quicker.
I have always wanted to attract birds to our yard by some means other than constantly filling feeders. It seems the feeders are merely smorgasbords for the squirrels around here, and I'm not great about cleaning them and keeping them filled. And my kids hate to fill bird feeders.
So, throughout the years, we've put in some pretty standard bird-attracting plants that are easy to grow, hardy and attractive to humans, as well. As I was working in the yard recently, I made a note of several that I suggest.
Robins love the beautyberries in our yard. We have Callicarpa bodinieri 'Profusion,' and I also love Callicarpa americana and Callicarpa dichotoma, also known as the Chinese beautyberry. The magnificent purple (yes, they are grape-popsicle purple) berries are spaced every inch or two along the stem. I use them in arrangements in the fall, if I can beat the birds to them.
The dwarf nandina (Nandina domestica 'Wood's dwarf' and 'Firepower') in our front circle attract cedar waxwings and robins while the flowers are attractive to bees. I must admit I was a bit upset when the starlings discovered these bushes - they scared all of the other birds away!
I've seen many songbirds around the viburnums out back - we have Korean Spice (Viburnum carlesii), Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) and Tea viburnum (Viburnum setigerum), and they are a big hit with the mockingbirds. (An interesting note from my bird book: The mockingbird is omnivorous. About half its diet consists of arthropods, including beetles, ants, bees, wasps and grasshoppers, but it will also eat earthworms and small lizards. In the fall, though, they will eat fruits, both wild and cultivated, and they love our viburnums.)
The Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) near our driveway always has a bird or two in its branches. In the fall, the small black-purple fruit is quite sweet.