Make a planter strictly for the birds…berry and bright

by Drucilla James

With the sudden drop in temperatures and the advent of winter visitors, getting enough to eat is a challenge for the birds in our gardens.

Berries are one important source of nutrients for them, and in many cases can be crucial to their well-being particularly when winter conditions deepen and other sources of food become frozen or unavailable.  With much of the harvest in the hedgerows and woods now consumed, birds are being driven into towns and cities in search of supplies.

Native species with berries include holly, ivy, guelder rose and hawthorn, but planting up a container with garden species such as Pyracantha, Berberis, native and garden varieties of honeysuckle and Cotoneaster, can offer an important lifeline for birds’ survival through the winter too.

What to plant

When choosing plants for your container, select ones which produce red, orange, purple, black or yellow berries, as these tend to be more attractive to feeding birds than those that are white.

Things you’ll need

  • Large deep containers
  • Drainage material
  • Ericaceous compost
  • Grit
  • Horticultural sand
  • Bone meal
  • Berry-bearing plants
pyr and Ugni

Pyracantha and Ugni molinae

Plants we used

  • Pyracantha ‘Soleil d’Or’ (Yellow Firethorn)
  • Ugni molinae (pink/red berries)
  • Gaulteria procumbens (red berries)
  • Vaccinium vitis-idaea (pink/red berries)
  • Hypericum Magical (red turning purple then black berries)
  • Skimmia japonica ‘reevesiana’ (red berries)
gault and vacc

Gaultheria and Vaccinium


  1. Water all the plants you are going to use.
  2. Place your containers at the location, where you will site them.
  3. Place some drainage pieces, such as pieces of broken clay pot, in the base of the container, and cover the drainage pieces with a layer of grit.
  4. Mix the compost with some bone meal and horticultural sand to form a medium which drains well and has the capacity to retain moisture. Compact down gently as you fill the container.
  5. Plant up the container starting with the taller plants, and finishing by placing the lower-growing plants at the edges.
  6. Cover the compost surface of each container with a layer of grit.
  7. Water and check regularly but do not allow the containers to become wet.

Next year you will be able to prune the plants to form the shapes you find most satisfying.

Hyp and skim

Hypericum and Skimmia

We planted

pots long shot final pxPot 1

Pyracantha ‘Soleil d’Or’, Vaccinium vitis-idaea and Skimmia japonica

Pot 2

Ugni molinae (as this can if left unchecked grow to 2 metres)

Pot 3

Hypericum Magical and Gaulteria procumbens

And finally

Site the pots where you can see them and, without being too obtrusive to your feathered visitors, sit with your binoculars, a cup of your favourite drink and marvel at the feeding antics of a range of birds.

Editors note: The Pyracantha was stripped of half of its berries before the gardener could get it planted showing how hungry the birds are already.

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