Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Crabapple trees great for wildlife in winter
We have had many letters from readers telling about having flocks of cedar and Bohemian waxwings, American robins and eastern bluebirds eating the left-over fruit on their crabapple trees. Ted Walski, my good friend and biologist for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, dropped in for a few moments and inquired about the birds our readers had written about recently. I mentioned these letters that told of the dried crabapple fruit eaters and Ted said:
"Crabapple trees are great for winter wildlife. In the past couple of months many folks have told me the same thing."
A few days later Ted dropped off some information he had prepared (including photos) about crabapples for this column. I was delighted to receive it.
Ted's information follows: "When winter snow cover hides possible foods on the ground, birds are attracted to the small dried berries hanging on barberry and multi-flora rose bushes or, where available, bittersweet vines that are very limited in our heavily forested state.
"Recently, 10 grouse and three wild turkeys have been cleaning off the barberry bushes and bittersweet vines in my old garden site. Another group of grouse have been feeding on the small fruits in one of my crabapple plots and also the female fruit clusters of sumac trees.
"In past years with the wild turkey project, I used to purchase and give crabapple mini-orchard plants to land owners interested in developing a food source for wintering wild turkeys. Bare root stock was ordered from several large out-of-state nurseries for a minimal $6 to $8 per tree. These bundles of crabapple trees were stored in wet peat mass in large black plastic trash barrels until they could be delivered to the landowners. Ten foot lengths of fencing, stakes and mouse guards went with the crabapple trees. If a circular fence is not put around each tree, deer and voles will usually kill the tree. Each crabapple plot usually consisted of three trees of each of four varieties.
"Of the many varieties of ornamental crabapple trees, I developed a list of the relatively few that held their fruit on over the winter and were good for wildlife. One of my favorites is 'Snowdrift,' which I believe was developed in Canada. The blossoms are striking and the fruits prolific. I have one in the backyard dog pen, which the waxwings and robins love. The birds clean this tree off and leave the fruit on the tree of an adjacent variety. Fortunately, Snowdrift is for sale at some of the local roadside landscape nurseries."
Ted's statement included the following list of crabapple varieties that retain their fruits through the winter: "Snowdrift, Sargent Crabapple, Washington Hawthorn, Robinson, Centurion, Selkirk, Manchurian, Profusion, Red Splendor, Prairie Fire, Indian Magic, and Sugar & Thyme.
"Several large nurseries I have used in the past: Bailey Nurseries, 1325 Bailey Road, St. Paul, Minn. 55119 (1-800-829-8898); Lawyer Nursery Inc., 950 Highway 200 West, Plains, Mont. 59859 (1—800—55l—9875); Newark Nurseries Inc., P.O. Box 578, Hartford, Mich. 49057 (1- O0-253-2911).
"The above listed nurseries are large and sell at wholesale but may not sell to individuals who wish to order a few trees. However you can call and ask. I believe they will ship orders of 20 or more trees. Usually these trees come packed 20 trees to a bundle.
"Most roadside nurseries do not have the crabapple varieties that retain the fruit over winter for wild turkeys and other wildlife. Rather, they are sold for their flowering capability and/or use for jam/jelly. The trees are shipped as bare root stock, and are sealed in a plastic wrap with a little moisture and moss.
"The price of these crabapple trees vary from approximately $6.45 to $11.30, and average about $8.50 each.They are 1- or 2-year-old trees, which vary from 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter, and are 5 to 7 feet tall. They are shipped in April/May in a dormant state, or before buds open. Similar size trees purchased at a roadside nursery in pots or burlap would cost approximately $20 to $50 each."
"The State Forest Nursery in Boscawen, wild crabapple and Hawthorne and they are small seedlings. The shrub species most recommended for turkey winter food cost about $.60 per seedling. The shrub species most recommended for turkey winter food are barberry, multiflora rose and bittersweet.
"The state forest nursery also has the following: European barberry, Japanese barberry, Bittersweet, Mountain Ash, Pink Lady Euonymous, High Bush Cranberry, Virginia Rose and Rugosa Rose."
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Reminder, I am no longer able to write letters, if you wish information, or a particular question answered, please include your telephone number. It will not be released.
Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey 03446.