Stop bellyaching about fall. No more whining when the nicotiana gets nicked, okay? Rather than dissolving into tears when the coleus is iced, focus on the highlights of fall. For instance, did you ever stop to consider that autumn is the juiciest time of year? It’s not the last hurrah. Here’s the good news: This is the beginning of berry season.
If you plan ahead and install the right shrubs, autumn can be a thrilling interlude when a wide variety of bushes bear fruit in Westchester. Many spring and early summer blooming shrubs are fruitful into late summer and fall, and that leads to some outrageously bright clusters of glistening goodness. So what if your impatiens are history? You can wallow in viburnums, aronias, and winterberries shouldering all sorts of succulent seed morsels for the benefit of birds and other wildlife. When planting shrubs in spring and late summer, keep autumn fruit in mind, and the result will make an already glowing season pop. Berries come in shades that are rare in the floral realm—like bright cherry-red, soft yellow, and lavender. Couple those colors with the surrounding fiery golds of autumn leaves, and you’ve got something to look forward to throughout the cooler months.
Most autumn berries are not on the menu for us, but they feed migratory birds as well as the winged home team that hangs around throughout the winter. Some berries, such as winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) become palatable to birds only after several freeze/thaw cycles. So they hang in for months of vibrant color before being stripped—it’s nature’s way of pleasing both gardeners and critters. Plus, many fruiting shrubs turn brilliant autumn hues before the leaves eventually drop to reveal the bright berries clinging to naked stems. To get maximum mileage for both songbirds and yourself, here are some fall berries you should consider.
Cultivars are available in fire engine red or fiery orange clusters of berries that linger long after the foliage drops. American robins love them, but they aren’t the only feathered diners—cedar waxwings and Western scrub jays feed on them as well.
Although robins hit on serviceberries quickly when the fruit ripens on this small tree in summer, some fruit might remain when the leaves turn yellow in autumn.
(Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantissima’)
Want to put a smile on the beaks of cedar waxwings? Plant aronias and the birds will flutter around the bright red berries of this small tree from late summer onward.
You’ve probably watched some crabapple tailgate parties when the berries begin to ferment and the birds get a buzz. Both red and yellow crabapples are edible for birds.
With clusters of white berries, this shrub boasts the double whammy of summer and early fall maturing fruit as well as stems that blush to remain vivid throughout winter.
This family of shrubs produces bird-benefiting berries from the bright red fruit of V. dilatatum ‘Cardinal Candy’ to the yellow fruit of V. dilatatum ‘Michael Dodge’ and the navy blue clusters of Viburnum dentatum cultivars. In addition, the leaves turn radiant shades of orange and bronze in autumn.
Birds do not strip the bright lavender berries that line the stems of this graceful shrub until late winter, so they remain as a boon for our benefit throughout most of an otherwise drab season.
If you can beat the birds to these broad umbels of glistening, nearly black berries dangling from their lacy-leaved branches, try making elderberry wine.