Garden Doctors: Winter berries for Sonoma County birds

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Josie writes: I would like to share my bird viewing experience with your readers. In my backyard, I have a large Fuyu persimmon. The fruit is not overly soft as of this writing. However, much to my dismay, there was a very tiny hummingbird feasting on the persimmon fruit. This was the first viewing of a hummingbird enjoying persimmons. And then the hummingbird flew over to a nearby rosemary shrub and continued to enjoy its flower nectar. Finally, a pair of titmouse birds were very entertaining as they enjoyed the tiny leftover crabapples on my ‘Louisa’ crabapple. It was a heartwarming experience.

Josie, thanks for sharing your story about the various birds in your garden. I have never seen a hummingbird enjoying persimmons; it is usually birds such as flickers, robins and mockingbirds that appear en masse as the persimmon fruit ripens and they can clean up the remaining fruit in a day.

For you readers, here are a few other shrubs/trees that provide additional food for birds from their berries:

Washington hawthorne, Crataegus phaenopyrum. 25 feet tall by 20 feet wide. Washington hawthorne has fall/winter fruit that is an amazing show as it attracts masses of robins.

Arbutus unedo “Marina.” Arbutus, commonly called “strawberry tree,” is an evergreen small tree or shrub with orange fruit this time of year. Not only does it provide color but, it has a beautiful structure with burgundy colored bark. 25 to 40 feet tall by 25 to 40 feet wide.

Persimmons. The persimmon tree reminds one of a holiday tree with its fabulous fruit hanging on bare branches. Even better, it is a tasty fruit for us during the early winter months.

Beware. Avoid planting these trees next to sidewalks where their fruit will drop and be messy.


Levi asks: After days of rain I have observed many round discolored spots on the leaves of my bearded iris. Is it acceptable to cut back the foliage now and destroy the diseased leaves? I prefer not to spray.

Yes! The discolored spots are a fungal disease and do cut back the straplike foliage below any visible circular diseased spots. New healthy growth will emerge. Also clean up and remove any additional old dry foliage. The wet and unseasonably warm weather has promoted fungal problems in many different plants.


Barbara and Nick ask: Can you identify the spiny deciduous shrub with the small elongated bead-like red berries that remain on the shrub in fall and winter? Also, what is the name of the very small rounded holly that bears red berries in the winter?

The shrub is Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea, or Japanese barberry. This is another shrub that attracts birds/butterflies. Under ideal conditions it can reach a height and width of 4 to 6 feet. The variety “Cherry Bomb” is a colorful selection.

Berries appear on previous year’s growth. Shrubs that are regularly shaped and hedged most likely be absent of the attractive berries.

The name of the holly is Rock Garden Holly, “Ilex Rock Garden.” This is a small hybrid globe shaped shrub and only grows 1 to 2 inches per year. A mature size is 1-foot-by-1-foot. It bears berries because it is a female holly.


Lillian writes: I discovered a lime yellow Monterey cypress in a 1-gallon container and I have decorated it with tiny Christmas lights. The shrub is Christmas tree shape, and I have put it inside a larger pottery container. The question is: can I continue to grow it indoors in a pot?

The shrub’s botanical name is Cupressus macrocarpa, “Goldcrest Wilma.” It is a dwarf lemon Cypress tree with foliage that produces an enticing lemony scent when one brushes against the plant. “Goldcrest Wilma” is considered a dwarf; it usually does not exceed a height of 3 feet, making it a fine houseplant. If you plant it outside it can reach 6 to 8 feet in height. Choose a site that will accommodate its mature growth, shape, and chartreuse coloring. It should have full sun outside.

Indoors, apply water two to three times a week if it is in a pot. Do not allow it to dry out completely. Turn it occasionally so it will grow upright. Fertilize the shrub lightly in the spring before new growth appears. It should be near a window that receives six to eight hours of direct sun, or a south-facing or corner windows that receives more light. It prefers cooler indoor temperature in the winter so keep it away from heater vents.

Enjoy your decorated new living Christmas tree! Brush against it frequently and smell the emitted lemon fragrance.

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at

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