Sumacs, pincherries, chokecherries, wild plums, and lots of other fast-growing native trees—weeds, in other words—spring up and grow like lightning. While we might look at these “trees” as a nuisance near refined gardens, much like poison ivy, they may just be the wonderland your birds were wanting.
“Trash trees” are fast-growing, not classically beautiful like an oak, often short-lived, and have little or no dollar value for lumber. They’re the chokecherries, poplars, hackberries, box-elders, and other trees that spring up in unattended areas almost as soon as your back is turned.
When I first heard the term years ago, I thought they were in the league of weeds. I could see that the trees in those brushy hedgerows weren’t nearly as beautiful as the graceful dogwood that held a place of honor in my yard—and for which I’d paid a pretty penny. Sniff! Trash trees, who needs ’em?
Oh, how young and dumb I was.
Eventually it dawned on me that just about every bird that landed in my dogwood came from the trash trees. Maybe we can’t make boards out of them, and maybe they aren’t classic beauties, but “trash trees” are hugely valuable to birds. They offer ideal nesting sites, they’re great cover, and the mixed thickets create corridors for birds to safely move about. And that’s not even considering all the insect food and fruit they offer up, let alone their use as nesting material.
One of my most successful bird gardens ever was a 6-foot-wide strip that we simply stopped mowing, along one side of our country yard. Goldenrod and asters soon moved in, followed by blackberries, wild grapes, and saplings of all sorts. Sumacs, pincherries, chokecherries, wild plums, and lots of other fast-growing native trees sprang up.
In just a few years, I had a great natural hedgerow that was burgeoning with vireos, flycatchers, orioles, bluebirds, wrens, robins, flickers, native sparrows, even quail.
Trash trees? I don’t think such a thing exists. Trees that volunteer, grow 6 feet tall in a year or two, and provide super bird appeal are more like true treasure.
Adapted from Bird-by-Bird Gardening: The Ultimate Guide to Bringing in Your Favorite Birds—Year After Year, by Sally Roth (Rodale, 2006).