The Payoff

Payoff - 1
The tree form of serviceberry (likely Amelanchier ‘Autumn Brilliance’) lines a path. It has a graceful habit, early bloom, delicious edible berries that birds also love, and it’s drought-tolerant and can thrive in a range of conditions.

For wildlife gardeners — including those who want to support pollinators — certain plants promise a bigger payoff.

Shrubs are one category of plant that often deliver more rewards for less effort. They are larger than a perennial and can produce many more blooms per plant. Since they are woody, they need not be cut back every year like many perennials. (That is, if they are planted in a site where they are allowed to take their natural shape and size.)

Another category of plants with a bigger proportional payoff is the earliest bloomers. They provide much-needed nectar to the newly emerging insects, and much-needed protein (i.e. insects) to newly arrived migrant birds.

Payoff - 2
Birds will be attracted to a flowering shrub or tree for the shelter, perches, and insects (baby food for their nestlings) that it offers.

The real powerhouses, then, are the plants that merge both of these categories: the earliest-blooming shrubs. Depending on your location and the size of your garden, think of wild plum (Prunus americana), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), winter hazel (Corylopsis varieties), bush cherry (Prunus tomentosa), cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), serviceberry (Amelanchier varieties), clove currant (Ribes aureum), willow-leaf spiraea (Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’), Chinese paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha), and pussy willow (Salix varieties), among others.

Early-flowering shrubs put on a show when little else is showing, so they get more than their share of attention and appreciation — not only from people, but from insects looking for nectar and birds looking for insects. There’s a huge payoff in adding them to your garden.

Payoff - 3
Serviceberry in bloom.


  1. Just planted a dogwood which, although not a shrub, is an early bloomer. I’m “all over” planting stuff for wildlife. Will look for wildlife-friendly stuff at the Master Gardeners’ plant sale this Saturday.

  2. From climate change to habitat loss to aggressive agricultural practices that grow crops on every available acre, pesticides, parasites, pathogens, and alien invasive species, pollinators are having a rough time:

    Since I light my home, drive my car, and eat farmed food, I contribute to the decline. As a gardener, I consider it my responsibility to give back to the pollinators, so I agree with you, Evelyn.

    “I must have flowers, always, and always.”
    ― Claude Monet

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