In the Garden:
Tough as nails, nandina produces great berries for winter birds.
Keep the Berries Coming
Luckily for us who love them, birds keep a vigil in my garden nearly year-round. But they're truly evident in winter because of the selection of berried shrubs I've planted over the years to see them through the cold.
Bamboo for Birds
Nandina domestica is commonly called heavenly bamboo and has been planted in landscapes across our region for years. The species is less popular now, but smaller hybrid nandinas still have their fans, especially for the shrub's fall color. I love the old species version for the bountiful berries, that birds love, she delivers with nearly no care from me. I cut down old canes if they're leafless for a season and fertilize the shrubs every other spring. I keep them mulched with compost for ongoing food and weed control but have never seen a bug on them.
Grapes for Birds
Birds love Oregon grape (also known as grape holly and Oregon holly). Mahonia aquifolium produces deep purple berries in shady gardens. New growth can be green or red tinged but matures to a deep blue green. A stunning shrub, Mahonia feeds the latecomers to my garden. Its bold texture makes a great companion plant to camellias, especially a group of Mahonias; the two plants balance each other's density very well.
Mahonia is easy to grow in a rich, organic soil. Plant it toward the back of the bed if you have small children - its leaves have sharp points. Keep it mulched and fertilize it every spring with a slow-release shrub food.
There's a long-standing gardener's story that birds leave some berries until the end of the winter so they have time to ferment, resulting in drunken birds falling out of trees. I don't know if that story in true, but I do know that possum haw (Ilex purpurea) holds its red-orange berries until the leaves of all trees have dropped. Birds will even strip all those berries before spring. Possum haw tends to grow in a multistemmed thicket form, so if you want a single trunk, keep it pruned. I have never fertilized a possum haw, but if yours needs it, use compost in spring and 0-20-20 in the fall.
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