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How to choose trees that will encourage birds to hang around your yard

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Any water source in your garden is a bird magnet. You can encourage birds to stick around by introducing bird-friendly trees. Now – during the indoor season – is the time to plan for spring, so consider which bird trees you might want to put on your winter wish list.

Because there’s nothing more painful in gardening than having to take down an improperly-sited tree — and one in the wrong place is a rotten legacy to leave a future homeowner — consider carefully where to place your tree, and what kind of tree you need. Here’s where winter gives you a break, because you’ve got time to do your homework.

Shapes and sizes

Is the tree fast or slow-growing? Don’t be seduced by the promise of instant size. Some fast-growers are fine, but others are weak in branching or possess aggressive roots that can come up in inopportune places around your garden — I’m thinking of a silver maple (Acer saccharinum) I once battled. One edition of The Sunset Western Garden Book called that variety “a bad actor.”

What will the eventual height look like in your yard? You can get some idea if you figure each story of a house is roughly 10 feet tall. Your own out-stretched arms are approximately equal to your height, so walk around your yard and use your body to measure future diameters — how far away from that fence should you plant?

Consider size of scale when locating trees, especially near water features. In many cases, it’s best to stick with smaller-statured specimens. Two notes of caution regarding size. No. 1: Many dwarf conifers are not true dwarfs but simply very slow growing — some are measured in mere inches of growth per year— but eventually they may outspread the best planning.

And caution No. 2: The labels on larger shrubs and trees often tell you how big the plant will be in 10 years, not its size at maturity. So do some reading in more than one good plant encyclopedia for a complete understanding of what you’ve got.

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