Cardinals are one of the most beloved backyard birds, recognizable by their bright red plumage. If you want to attract more cardinals to your yard, planting the right trees is key. But what trees do cardinals like best?

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: Cardinals like trees that provide dense cover, nesting spots, fruit and berries to eat, and access to insects. The best trees for cardinals are evergreens like spruces and pines, small ornamental trees like dogwoods and redbuds, and fruit-bearing trees like mulberries, black cherries, grape vines.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about what types of trees cardinals like and why they’re attracted to certain trees over others. We’ll provide details on the best evergreen, ornamental, and fruit-bearing trees to plant to make your yard as cardinal-friendly as possible.

Why Cardinals Like Certain Trees

Dense Foliage for Shelter

Cardinals prefer trees like spruce, pine, cedar, and fir because they offer excellent shelter year-round. Their dense needles provide cover from predators and harsh weather (Audubon). Thick foliage blocks wind, rain, and snow so cardinals can stay warm and dry.

It also conceals nesting and roosting spots from threats like hawks, owls, raccoons, and cats trying to raid eggs and chicks.

Nesting Opportunities

In addition to shelter, conifers like pine, spruce, and cedar give cardinals optimal nesting sites. Their horizontal branches allow stable placement for nests up to 40 feet high (All About Birds). Evergreens offer better protection, easier access, and more options for nest building than bare deciduous trees.

They also give camouflage from predators when needles grow thick around nests.

Some key nesting features cardinals look for include:

  • Sturdy, layered branches for structural support
  • Concealed sites with dense needles surrounding the nest
  • Elevation over 6 feet up for safety from ground predators

Food Sources

Certain trees provide cardinals with nutritious berries, seeds, sap, and insects. Evergreen varieties like spruce, pine, hemlock, cypress, juniper, arborvitae, yew, and fir bear cones filled with seeds (Audubon). These energy-rich foods sustain cardinals year-round.

Deciduous trees like dogwood, sumac, maple, elm, oak, and gum offer winter berries. All these trees attract insects cardinals eat during spring and summer months.

Tree Type Food Source for Cardinals
Spruce, Pine Seeds from cones
Dogwood, Sumac Fruits and berries
Elm, Oak, Maple Insects, sap, seeds

With shelter for nesting and abundant food sources, conifers and select deciduous trees provide sustenance and protection for cardinals throughout the seasons.

The Best Evergreen Trees for Cardinals


Spruces are a great evergreen choice for attracting cardinals to your yard. Their pyramidal shape and densely needled branches provide excellent shelter and nesting sites. Spruces like the blue spruce (Picea pungens) and Norway spruce (Picea abies) produce large seed cones that cardinals will forage on.

Make sure to choose a spruce variety that is suited to your planting zone. Give spruces plenty of space to grow, at least 15-20 feet between trees. Popular spruce varieties for cardinals include:

  • Blue spruce – dense foliage with blue needles
  • Norway spruce – fast growing with drooping branches
  • White spruce – conical shape with light green needles
  • Black Hills spruce – slow growing but long lived


Pines are another classic evergreen for a cardinal-friendly landscape. Their year-round cover and tasty seeds attract cardinals. White pine (Pinus strobus) and red pine (Pinus resinosa) produce soft, slender needles and large cones that cardinals relish.

Try planting cluster of pines together to create prime cardinal habitat. Other great pine choices include:

  • Austrian pine – fast growing with long, dark green needles
  • Scotch pine – twisted branches and orange bark when mature
  • Southwestern white pine – softer blue-green needles
  • Ponderosa pine – dramatic, flaky bark


Firs have the classic triangular Christmas tree shape that makes a beautiful landscape specimen. Their dense branches provide shelter and nesting sites for cardinals. The seeds from their erect cones also attract these birds.

Good fir varieties include balsam fir (Abies balsamea), Fraser fir (Abies fraseri), and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Other great options are:

  • Noble fir – sweeping branches and massive cones
  • Grand fir – very fast growing when young
  • Concolor fir – distinctive blue-green needles


Hemlocks like the eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and Carolina hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana) produce dense, flat foliage perfect for cardinal nests. Their small cones also contain seeds that cardinals enjoy. Give hemlocks rich, acidic soil and partial shade for best growth.

Allow at least 10 feet between trees. Other hemlock varieties that attract cardinals include:

  • Western hemlock – gracefully drooping branches
  • Mountain hemlock – dwarf mounded form, only 10 feet tall

By choosing a selection of spruces, pines, firs, and hemlocks, you can create an ideal evergreen sanctuary in your yard that will attract cardinals year after year. Make sure to provide a range of tree heights and forms for diversity. Properly site and space the trees to encourage healthy growth.

Water young trees regularly until their root systems are established. Then sit back and enjoy the cardinal visitors drawn to your own evergreen oasis!

Top Ornamental Trees to Attract Cardinals

Dogwood Trees

With their vibrant red fall foliage and bright red berries, dogwood trees are excellent for enticing cardinals to visit a backyard. The Cornus florida species produces red fruits that cardinals find irresistible from late summer through fall.

Dogwoods are relatively small, growing 15-30 feet tall, making them ideal ornamental trees even for smaller yards. Their horizontal branching pattern also makes it easy for cardinals to perch and feed. According to the National Wildlife Federation, dogwoods can support over 100 species of wildlife.

Eastern Redbud

The eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is another magnificent, small ornamental tree perfect for cardinal visitors. Growing 20-30 feet high with a wide, umbrella-shaped canopy, they showcase a brilliant display of pink to purplish spring flowers.

These give way to long, flat seed pods by summer and fall. Cardinals enjoy feasting on the nutritious redbud seeds. As beautiful as they are useful for wildlife, it’s no wonder redbud trees have been named Oklahoma’s state tree.


Also called shadbush or juneberry, the aptly named serviceberry offers plenty of sweet, berry-like fruits that cardinals love snacking on. Their red-orange fruits ripen in midsummer, providing an important food source during fledgling season.

Serviceberries reach 15-30 feet tall at maturity in a wide range, with lovely white spring blooms. A host of birds and other wildlife depend on these trees. In fact, Audubon considers serviceberry a “powerhouse native plant” for supporting birds.

Fringe Tree

With its snowy, fringe-like blossoms in spring on leafless gray branches, fringe trees create a unique ornamental look. Their blue olive-like drupes attract many birds later in the year. These small, multi-trunk trees fit easily into most landscapes, topping out around 12-20 feet high.

Cardinals will appreciate the cover and fruits that fringe trees provide. They are low maintenance once established but do require male and female plants present for fruit production. Experts recommend fringe tree as one of the

“>top small trees for attracting birds.

Fruit Trees Cardinals Love


The mulberry tree is a favorite of cardinals due to its sweet, juicy berries that ripen in mid-summer. These fast-growing trees can reach up to 10-15 feet tall and wide, making them an excellent choice for a backyard bird habitat.

Cardinals will happily feast on mulberries as they ripen to dark purple. Plant a mulberry tree and you’re likely to see cardinals snacking in the branches through late spring and summer.


Elderberry shrubs produce clusters of tiny purple-black berries that cardinals find irresistible. These hardy, low-maintenance shrubs thrive in various conditions, from full sun to partial shade. Plant an elderberry in your yard and get ready to see cardinals flocking to the branches when the berries ripen in late summer.

As a bonus, the flowers are also attractive to butterflies and bees. For best results, choose an elderberry variety suited to your growing zone.

Black Cherry

The black cherry is a large deciduous tree that produces tiny deep purple fruit cherries. Cardinals are drawn to the sweet taste of ripened black cherries in mid to late summer. Since this tree grows over 50 feet tall, it’s best for larger backyards.

Make sure to give it plenty of room to spread its canopy. Black cherry trees are not only functional for feeding birds, but also add beauty to the landscape when the branches are covered with white flowers in spring.

Just be aware that the small pits inside the cherries contain cyanide, so make sure to remove any fallen fruit.

Grape Vines

For cardinals, grape vines are the gift that keeps on giving. First, they’ll eat the grapes right off the vine as they ripen in late summer and fall. Then once the leaves drop, the birds enjoy foraging through the vine branches for any leftover fruit.

Grapes are filled with natural sugars that birds need for energy. Be sure to plant grape vines in a spot that gets full sun and has something sturdy for the vines to climb, like a trellis or arbor. The bonus is you’ll probably get to enjoy some homegrown grapes too before the birds eat them all!


By planting the right mix of evergreens, ornamental trees, and small fruit-bearing trees in your yard, you can make it irresistible to cardinals while enhancing the natural beauty. Focus on trees that provide shelter, nesting spots, food sources and access to insects to meet all the cardinal’s habitat needs.

With the tree recommendations in this guide, you’ll give cardinals everything they need to thrive while enjoying their beauty and song for years to come. The addition of these small trees can help attract cardinals to establish permanent residence, brightening your yard with their scarlet shades.

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