Miss Floribunda: Keeping birds off your blueberries

September 10, 2011

Dear Miss Floribunda,

 I like birds and would never put poisons on my plants, but I am feeling very, very frustrated after seeing my feathered friends devour everything edible on my blueberry bushes and my cherry tree this summer. I put netting on the bushes but those little pointy beaks seemed to have no trouble getting through. The aluminum pie pans and CDs in the cherry tree may have kept some birds away, but not enough of them. Some of the jays and catbirds went kamikaze on my cat while other birds feasted. What can I do next year that is humane? Or should I just give up?

Berry Bereft and About to Quit on Queensbury 

MISS FLORIBUNDA —  Dear Berry Bereft and About to Quit,

Please don’t quit, but follow up your good feelings for the birds by planting berry-producing plants they prefer even to blueberries and cherries. Once again, our own native plants will be helpful.

You don’t say how large your yard is, but if you have room you might plant a wild cherry tree that would attract the birds away from your favorite. I’m thinking of the prunus virginiana, also known as bird cherry or chokecherry, and the prunus serotina, or black cherry. These are both native to North America and birds much prefer their fruit to that of the varieties we grow for our own consumption.

Though it can be a pest if you don’t control seedlings, a mulberry tree is a bird magnet. This is easy to grow and most birds love mulberries – especially your “kamikaze” catbirds. Birds also prefer our native huckleberries, serviceberries, beautyberries and chokeberries to blueberries. They enjoy the seeds of redbud and silver maple trees as well.

Taking less space are coneflowers, rudbeckia and sunflowers, and their numerous seeds will keep our beaky little buddies occupied and away from the cherry tree. Although I’ve recommended summer-bearing plants for diversionary purposes, there are also autumn-bearing plants that would please the birds and keep them in your garden. They love the berries on viburnum, dogwoods, inkberry and various holly varieties.

They even enjoy berries of plants toxic to us, such as poison ivy and Virginia creeper, but I think it would be going a bit far to stock your garden with those! But do include bird favorites in your garden and you will find they will show much less interest in the fruits and berries you want for yourself and your family.

My brother-in-law Papageno Vogelfanger is of the opinion that it is thirst rather than hunger that makes birds go for the fat, succulent blueberries and cherries we like to grow. He claims that a birdbath near your berries will draw birds away from them, especially if you add a fountain feature that will attract them with its musical sound. If nothing else, it will certainly lend charm to your garden.

For more information on this and other garden challenges, please come to the next meeting of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society at the Hyattsville Municipal Center, at 10 a.m. on Saturday, September 17.  Please send questions to Floribundav@gmail.com.