Winter Landscaping for Birders in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania and the Northeast can be a cold and dreary place come winter, but with a little landscaping magic, it doesn’t have to be. We are lucky enough to live in a region with several lovely native plants that can offer a pop of color and bit of cheer during these gray months. Another major bonus is that these plants offer food and shelter to colorful bird species that winter in the area—another way to add life, energy, and movement to these bleak months. A thriving native garden and bright colored birds might just be the remedy you need for any northeastern wintertime blues. Below is an introductory list of native plants found in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland—specifically within the Brandywine-Christina watershed, a major tributary of the Delaware River. The Brandywine-Christina watershed runs through these three states and provides drinking water to approximately 60 percent of Delaware’s residents, according to the Nature Conservancy. This list of native plants was sourced from the Brandywine Conservancy.

1: American Holly

American Holly is known for producing bright red berries in the fall and its waxy evergreen leaves and their sharp edges. Because it is an evergreen, the American Holly provides shelter for wildlife throughout the harsh Northeastern winters. Its berries are also a valuable commodity for many regional bird species including the American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, and Cedar Waxwing, according to The University of Connecticut’s College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources. When it reaches maturity, the American Holly is a tree that can grow as large as 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide. It is a tolerant, low-maintenance plant that does well in full sun to partial shade and can thrive in different types of soil. However, exposure to lots of wind can dry out the leaves.

2: Winterberry

The Jolly Red Winterberry is another type of holly, but unlike the American Holly, the Winterberry’s leaves turn a warm burgundy in the fall, then produce colorful red berries amongst its bare branches during the winter, hence its name. Winterberry will fruit more berries in full sun and prefers wet area, but still does well in dryer conditions, according to The University of Connecticut. It can grew between 6 to 15 feet tall. Winter avian regulars include the American Robin, Hermit Thrush, and Eastern Bluebird.

3: Blackhaw

Blackhaw is a medium-sized deciduous shrub that can grow upwards of 15 feet. It’s a looker all seasons of the year, blooming lovely white clusters of flowers in spring, and pink flowers that mature to black oval-like fruit in autumn and winter, which offers a gorgeous purplish color during fall foliage. Blackhaw is perfect for someone with—dare we say—a black thumb. It’s easy to grow and is adaptable to many conditions, according to The University of Connecticut. What we love about Blackhaw is its fruit’s ability to attract striking red cardinals against a snowy white backdrop as well as the Cedar Waxwing, Hermit Thrush, American Bluebird and White-throated sparrows.

4: Virginia Rose

The Virginia Rose is a native rose shrub that grows between 4 to 6 feet tall. It yields pretty pink flowers in the spring. At the close of summer, the Virginia Rose’s flowers turn to red rose hips that feed many species of birds and other wildlife throughout the winter. According to The University of Connecticut, its nutritious rose hips provide food to birds including wild turkeys, Brown Thrashers, the Northern Cardinal, and the American Goldfinch.

5: American Witchhazel

American Witchhazel is a large deciduous tree that can grows 10 to 30 feet tall. Deciduous means that it sheds its leaves seasonally—during cold months. In the American Witchhazel’s case, it flowers in late October to early November after its autumn foliage has fallen. The flowers are yellow with witchy, spidery petals. We love this tree because of its unique color—unordinary for the time of year and very different than the bright greens and reds seen with evergreens and hollies. Its branches are also an attractive site for birds to nest.

Enjoy Your Winter Landscape More with Outdoor Lighting

Electing to plant flora native to Pennsylvania and the Brandywine-Christina watershed is a great choice for a year-round landscape. It’s a simple and wonderfully natural cure for the wintertime blues as these native plants, shrubs, and trees come to life during the coldest, bleakest months. They also attract wildlife and bright-colored birds for quiet onlooking and birding. Further, because this flora is naturally occurring in the area, it requires less attention and promotes a better likelihood that it will thrive. Additionally, it is often naturally resistant to the region’s pests and require less maintenance. Once your native plants are blossoming and thriving come winter, we recommend adding outdoor lighting so that you can enjoy your gorgeous winter landscaping day and night. We can’t think of anything prettier than little bursts of color from plantlife after a freshly fallen snow! We hope this quick list of some of our our favorites was helpful and inspiring, and become your top picks, too. Happy winter, everyone!