December Tips from the Wedgwood Garden Club

The Seattle Times’ “At Home” magazine recently ran a nice story about the importance of planting native berry bushes for birds to feast on in the Fall. The trouble is, the story was taken from the Washington Post and most of the plants referenced were east coast natives. That’s like telling a gardener in England to plant bushes native to Russia!

Birds switch in the Fall from preferring bugs and worms, to bulking up on calorie-rich berries, especially important for birds embarking on migration. Native berries seem to provide higher levels of nutrients, so what are some of our pacific northwest choices?

Oregon grapes carry clusters of dusty blue berries and come in two main forms, low-growing Oregon grapes (mahonia repens and m. nervosa) and tall Oregon grape (mahonia aquifolium), all evergreen plants with gorgeous yellow flower in spring for pollinators and hummingbirds to enjoy.

Another handsome evergreen plant is our evergreen huckleberry, with small dark glossy leaves, and berries from midsummer to Fall – the more sun, the more berries.

A larger evergreen bush is the strawberry tree (arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’), whose charming fruits really do resemble strawberries in appearance (but not taste!). The fruits take a year to develop, with flowers appearing on the bush at the same time as the fruits, preparing for the following year’s harvest.

Red-twig dogwoods are usually planted for the bare wintertime beauty of their red stems, but they produce flowers and then berries that are popular with many birds.

Two non-native bushes that are very popular with robins in my own garden, and good-looking to boot, are the beautyberry bush (callicarpa) with its load of rich purple berries, and the evergreen cotoneaster lacteus with great bunches of red berries. I have stood three feet from a robin so intent on feasting on my cotoneaster berries that it has continued stuffing itself (with one eye on me) for ten minutes.

These are all wonderful, widely available workhorse plants in our local gardens, so go out and treat yourself, and the birds, to some lasting landscaping delights.

Jacqueline Houston is a member of the Wedgewood Garden Club, and also a Master Gardener of King County. She has been gardening in Seattle for over 30 years. Wedgewood Garden Club always welcomes new members – contact Jacqueline at for more information on our monthly meetings.

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