How to choose trees that will encourage birds to hang around your yard
Encourage birds to stick around the yard with bird-friendly trees such as birches.
Any water source in your garden is a bird magnet. You can encourage birds to stick around by introducing bird-friendly trees. Now – during the indoor season – is the time to plan for spring, so consider which bird trees you might want to put on your winter wish list.Skip to next paragraph
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Because there’s nothing more painful in gardening than having to take down an improperly-sited tree — and one in the wrong place is a rotten legacy to leave a future homeowner — consider carefully where to place your tree, and what kind of tree you need. Here’s where winter gives you a break, because you’ve got time to do your homework.
Shapes and sizes
Is the tree fast or slow-growing? Don’t be seduced by the promise of instant size. Some fast-growers are fine, but others are weak in branching or possess aggressive roots that can come up in inopportune places around your garden — I’m thinking of a silver maple (Acer saccharinum) I once battled. One edition of The Sunset Western Garden Book called that variety “a bad actor.”
What will the eventual height look like in your yard? You can get some idea if you figure each story of a house is roughly 10 feet tall. Your own out-stretched arms are approximately equal to your height, so walk around your yard and use your body to measure future diameters — how far away from that fence should you plant?
Consider size of scale when locating trees, especially near water features. In many cases, it’s best to stick with smaller-statured specimens. Two notes of caution regarding size. No. 1: Many dwarf conifers are not true dwarfs but simply very slow growing — some are measured in mere inches of growth per year— but eventually they may outspread the best planning.
And caution No. 2: The labels on larger shrubs and trees often tell you how big the plant will be in 10 years, not its size at maturity. So do some reading in more than one good plant encyclopedia for a complete understanding of what you’ve got.
Bird-attractive tree choices
Google “bird-friendly plants,” and you’ll find a massive amount of information. Here are three of my favorite bird trees to get you started.
Birches are classic around water. If you have the space for these 40- to 70-footers, they look fabulous reflected in a pool, and the small cone-like hanging fruits are a bird treat. However, many varieties are susceptible to bronze birch borer. The American native paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is more resistant than the European birch (B. pendula). Usually, however, the weather in the South (Zone 7 and higher) is too warm for either.
And even though the bark isn’t white, you won’t go wrong with the river birch (B. nigra ‘Heritage’) which is not affected by borers. The mature textured bark is cinnamon-red. For a dwarf river birch (to 10 feet tall), try B. nigra ‘Little King’.