feeling grateful for great fruiting plants

crabapple-malus-bob-white-in-fruit.jpgAN INCOMING FLOCK OF ROBINS LAST WEEK and another of cedar waxwings just after remind me why I grow big masses of fruit-bearing plants, particularly shrubs and small trees like crabapples (above). The fact that all the leaves just fell here reminded me of the other reason—the selfish one: because I get to look at the fruits, and the birds, when all else is pretty monochrome.  Seemed like a good week to do a quick roundup of some favorite plants for attaining this cheerful effect (well, except this one little drawback):

bird poop of aralias

Yup. All the paving here is littered with “slightly used” aralia fruit. It’s raining purple drops; the stains won’t be gone until a good rain washes it all down. Hilarious. A recap of some of my favorite plants, as promised:


These prolific late-fruiting woody and herbaceous plants, some native and others not, are an annual magnet for thrushes (including robins) and their relatives, as well as waxwings here.  I grow the perennials Aralia cordata and Aralia racemosa, and Aralia spinosa (the latter a large shrub/small tree).


I couldn’t make a garden, or a bird garden, without these prolific beauties, as you have heard me say repeatedly.  From the small gold fruit of ‘Bob White’ (top photo) to the giant near-apple ones on ‘Ralph Shay,’ I love them, and so do many birds.


Winterberries lead the way here from fall into winter, both for me and the birds, and I have every color (from yellow to red, above, and all shades between) and size (several feet high to near-trees).  What are you waiting for?


Some of the Viburnums here fruit early, and were gobbled up in summer, but yellow ‘Michael Dodge’ and Viburnum setigerum and others are just in their prime now. It was a fruitful year for my viburnums.

In case you missed it:

“I Know What Birds Like,” a primer on making a bird garden.

Fall slideshow: some of my favorites, shot last autumn.

  1. Charlotte Cantrell says:

    Margaret, maybe you can give me some answers. I am in Florida as I have said in the past. And I, like my neighbors have HUGE camphor tree’s in our front yards. Of course camphor trees produce big purple camphor berries. Now the birds eat them, and of course we get the “after effect”. My question is, how do you clean up after these berrie droppings? (on wood decks, ramps, etc. ) I know this isn’t really a “gardening” problem, but I thought maybe one of your experts might know an answer. Thank you.

  2. Abby says:

    Oh, thank you for a list of what (more) to plant in my backyard habitat! Re Viburnum, I was really disappointed that my beautiful onondaga is fruitless. I’m hoping next year the ‘Blue Muffin’ mates with the new ‘Chicago Lustre’ – I’ve yet to witness that blueberry muffin effect.

  3. Abby says:

    P.S. This is the most interesting, most helpful gardening site I visit. Your monthly chores help me organize my yard tasks. And I love the pix, too.

  4. Deirdre says:

    If I wanted a holly forest all I’d have to do is stop weeding. They’re a pernicious weed here in the Pacific Northwest. Same with English hawthorn and Mountain ash. I like the berries on the mountian ash. Different species have different colored berries. The birds are waiting for a frost before eating them. The Madrones out west have great berries, too.

  5. kathy says:

    berries all over the garden hardscape is bad, but when i lived in london, i had a medlar tree, two large-footed preteen boys, pale beige carpet and lovely french doors that led straight to the garden…

  6. Cambree says:

    I love watching birds eat berries and fruits off a tree.

    I also love the photos and gardening tips here. I will be visiting your blog often. Thank you for sharing. :)

  7. Madeline Hooper says:

    Hi Margaret,
    I’m so excited that you finished your first go around of your book. Well done. The winter would be a perfect time to start thinking about the books promotional opportunities. Please don’t forget my offer to help. We can enjoy a chat over hot cocoa!
    Enjoy this beautiful day,

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Madeline, and your generous offer will not go to waste, believe me. I was just thinking about that cocoa yesterday as I was digging out here from the aftermath of the first draft. What we two gardening neighbors could cook up, I bet, over a cup of cocoa… :)

  8. Linda B Horn says:

    Any information on Paw Paws. I have had fruit this year for the the first time. They are small and hard. What determines the ripening and size. They are in partial shade and at least 10 years old.

  9. Judy in Kansas says:

    And what about persimmons? A dozen trees came with our farm and I don’t know what to do with them. I know the bit about not eating them until after a freeze (tried that once – yuck!) but how to process, how to serve, etc.?

  10. Suzanne says:

    I, too, live in the Pacific Northwest. My woods, which were neglected for years before I bought my house, are infested with hollies, laurels, ivy and blackberries. Hollies, in particular, have become my mortal enemy. I know many hollies are polite and lovely for the garden and, Margaret, your photos are very tempting. But I am at war! I can’t be distracted!

  11. Lisa says:

    This is the first time I have ever written to a complete stranger, but I’ve been enjoying your site for a few months and thought I’d drop you a line. I, too, look forward to the flocks of robins and waxwings that visit the wild crabapples that dot our now overgrown strawberry fields. The yellow crabapples are the last of the berries that the birds visit. Starting earlier in the fall, the cedar berries, dogwood berries, wild grapes, virginia creeper were all magnets for birds as they filled up for their trip south for the winter. A few days ago, they visited the winterberry and stripped the plants of almost all the berries, but I don’t mind. I really just planted them for the birds anyway. The white throated sparrows, purple finches, and juncoes have arrived for the winter, along with the many year round birds that frequent the feeders and heated birdbath. Still lots to do in the garden, including removing the last of the leaves that have fallen in the perennial beds. Always feel a bit bad for the worms who thought they had the perfect moist, hiding place under the layer of fallen leaves. At least I make good use of the leaves mulching them up and putting them around the yard as needed. Our recent Indian summer has been lovely, though a bit confusing for some of the plants. I noticed a Jack in the Pulpit in bloom in our woods yesterday, first time I’ve ever seen that at this time of year. Right now I’m cherishing every little morsel of daylight and good weather that has been given to us before the cold of winter sets in, running home after work to prune, rake, etc. for the 45 minutes before dark arrives. Thanks for your website, I’ve enjoyed reading the many articles that have appeared.
    PS. Though, I am blaming you just a bit for the weeks I spent dragging around a Stewartia tree in a 25 gallon pot as I searched for a place to plant it in my yard. I’d always admired the tree, so when I saw a Stewartia on sale for 75% off, and having just read the article about Stewartias on your site, I thought it was meant to be, I had to buy that tree! But where to plant it, after 22 years gardening on this property, much of the prime spots have been planted. It turned out all right in the end, I found a place to plant it and I think it will be beautiful in a couple years. Now all I have to do is move the huge lilac that is 3 feet away from where I decided to plant the tree. But that can wait until the spring, it’ll give me something to look forward to. Enjoy this time of rest and contemplation, but please write once in awhile. The best part of winter is the time it gives away from the garden to sit at the computer, reading(and writing) for longer periods of time. Take care, stay warm – Lisa

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Lisa, and thank you for the great tale of your life there with all its great creatures. I am sorry to saddle you with that heavy Stewartia, but expect you two will be very happy together (once your back stops aching). :) I expect a flock of something to strip the hollies here any day now, though some years I get lucky and they take them later, in January-ish. Like you said, they are really planted for that purpose, so no worry. I hope to see you here again soon.

  12. Carrie says:

    Hi Margaret,
    I have a question regarding your crabapples. I have a small yard (only 35’wide X 75′ long). I planted a strathmore crabapple last fall about 15 feet from my house. This crabapple is supposed to be upright and narrow (16X13). What I am worried about is the mess the tree will be making near my house. The tree produces small 1/2″ fruits that are supposed to be persistent but I found quite a few already on the ground this spring. I have planted this tree in a flower bed with perrenials and shrubs. I am wondering if I should take this tree out or not. If it is going to be dumping all of its apples in my flower beds, I don’t think it would be easy to pick up all the fallen fruit. I had a problem with apple maggot last year and my apple tree is only 15 feet away so leaving the crabapples on the ground may be problematic. I actually planted this tree to provide privacy from my neighbour but now I am second guessing my choice of tree. What is your experience with your crabapple trees/other fruit trees? Do you have them planted in a flower bed or in the grass? How do you deal with the mess? I would be grateful for your insight.

    Thank you,

    1. Margaret says:

      @Carrie: I have my crabapples in grass, sort of in a field-like setting. Like apples and cherries, their petals (when the flowers are done and shatter) and then their fruit can indeed get on things below, though here the birds seem to eat the fruit, so it’s not too bad a mess. I don’t think that would stop me from having beds under them (I have perennials under my big old apples) but I do acknowledge that it is a little inconvenient (far easier to rake up on the grass-carpeted ones for sure). Even so-called persistent fruit has to give way sometime, and I don’t mind since I love these trees so much.

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