"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven."
Emily Dickinson

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Plant berries for the birds

Native Toyon, also known as Christmas berry or California holly, produces red berries that ripen this time of year. Photo by J.J. Meyer

  In case you missed my column that ran on Saturday, Dec. 6 in the Home & Garden section of the Orange County Register, here it is:

       Many birds change their eating habits in fall and winter. Some insect-eating birds will turn to berries to supplement their diets.
      Winter berry-producing native shrubs are important sustenance for year-round species including California thrashers, Western bluebirds, American robins, Northern flickers, Nuttall’s woodpeckers and Northern mockingbirds. Berries can also be magnets for winter visitors such as cedar waxwings.
       “If you want to have birds and butterflies, you need native plants,” said Reginald Durant, executive director of Back to Natives Restoration. The nonprofit group in Santa Ana promotes the use of locally native plants in habitat restoration.
      Native plants are species that occur naturally in a region or habitat without human intervention.    According to Durant, there are 806 native plant species in Orange County.
      Having a diversity of these plants in your backyard habitat will attract a diversity of birds, he said. Natives are ideal for attracting birds because they’ve co-evolved and therefore benefit each other. These plants are enticing to birds because the fruit meets their nutritional needs at the right time of year. Dense native shrubs also provide shelter to protect birds from the winter wind and rain.
       In turn, many native plants depend on the birds to distribute seeds for propagation.
      Durant says there are many bird-friendly, fruit-producing natives suited for our climate, including California wild rose, holly-leaved cherry, manzanitas, California coffeeberry, California grapes, fushia-flowering gooseberry and toyon, a small evergreen shrub also known as Christmas berry or California holly.
     The majority of these native berry-producing shrubs retain their fruit through the winter unless they are knocked down by high winds, he said.
      Fall is the best time to plant native shrubs, so they have time to become acclimated before the summer heat.
     “We usually wait until after the first rain to plant,” Durant said. So now is the perfect time.
     For information on choosing the best plants for your landscape, go to backtonatives.org.

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