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Goldfinch and Coneflowers In The Garden

How To Plant A Bird Garden With Native Flowers

If you’re a gardener, there’s a very good chance that you adore the sight of birds visiting your garden throughout the season and enhancing it with their energy and sound. Many of us encourage those visits simply with a birdfeeder; but when we choose to plant a garden specifically to feed the birds, we connect on an even greater level with our feathered companions, and have the great pleasure of watching them gather those seeds in the way that nature intended. And, if you’re trying to incorporate more native plants in your garden, why not choose varieties that satisfy both needs? If you grow it they will come! Read on to see some of the most popular native plant selections for feeding birds in your backyard.

Planting Native Sunflowers to Feed Birds

autumn sunflower
Customer Photo by Annette R. beautifully captures a bird resting upon an Autumn Sunflower.
sunflower seeds in pan
Harvest sunflower seeds yourself, or leave them be for the birds to do the work.

The most sought after seed at the feed store also happens to be one of the most expensive: sunflower. Why not grow some yourself and enjoy the sight of birds feasting on the plump seeds? Sunflowers are a sun-loving plant native to the Americas, and both annual and perennial varieties can be grown to feed the birds.

Birds Attracted to Sunflowers

Sunflower seed is the most popular birdseed, with good reason! A host of birds enjoy this seed, including tufted titmouse, chickadees, meadowlarks, mourning doves, goldfinches, house finches, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, quail, and many types of sparrows. 

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Cultivation Guidelines for Sunflowers

Sunflowers are not a fussy plant, but they do require a very sunny position and good drainage for best flowering. Sow the seeds ½ inch deep about 12 inches apart in a moderately fertile soil and keep moist as the seedlings establish strong roots. If you allow last year’s plants to seed themselves, make sure that seedlings are thinned and given adequate space by the time they are 3-4 inches tall to promote strong flowering and healthy plants.

If you want to feed the birds naturally, just leave seedheads alone and the birds will take care of the harvesting. If you wish to harvest them yourself and spread the bounty out over a few months of winter, cut the seed heads when most of the seeds are ripened and plump and allow the heads to dry. When they come apart with a little encouragement, pull the seeds off and store in jars or freezer bags. 

Learn More: How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds To Feed Birds

Planting Native Echinacea (Coneflowers) to Feed Birds

american gold finch on a echinacea or coneflower
A goldfinch visits a beneficial and beautiful plot of Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)

The strong stems and bright colors of purple coneflower (or Echinacea) make them one of the most beloved of our native plants – both to birds and to gardeners alike! WIld native species have purple, white, or pink flowers, and can be found in prairies and open woodlands, but many colorful culitivars have been added to this rainbow over the last decade. True to their name, they are a cone-shaped flower with prominent, spiky seed heads.

Though coneflower seeds can be harvested by the gardener, it is much more enjoyable to leave the seedheads in place at the end of the season, and watch the birds taking all they want in the fall and winter. Some birds will feed while perched on the swaying plants, and some will wait for the fall and winter to pull the remaining stems back down to the soil line.

Birds Attracted to Coneflowers

Coneflowers attract many birds, including goldfinch, sparrow, brown towhee, indigo bunting, cardinal, house finch, grouse, and chickadee.

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Cultivation Guidelines for Coneflowers

Coneflowers are not only a wonderful plant to try when feeding birds, but a great choice when you are putting together a children’s garden. They require little care, grow well in average soils, and can even handle a small amount of shade – though too much will cause legginess and poor flowering. For best results, plant in a sunny location in a soil with good drainage and some organic content. Kept moist until germination, and thin seedlings to 8-12 inches apart. Plants will self-seed. You can encourage later-season flowering for fall feeding by dead-heading the first blooms in mid-summer.

Planting Native Bee Balm (Monarda) to Feed Birds

A Hummingbird Visits Blooming Bee Balm
A hummingbird visits blooming Bee Balm

Anyone that has grown bee balm will tell you how amazed they were by the amount of wildlife this fragrant native perennial attracted to their garden. Apart from the host of pollinating insects hovering over the spiky whorls of red, purple, or pink flowers in summer, hummingbirds always seem to find these unusual flowers. They simply cannot resist the sweet nectar stored in long, tubular nectaries. Later in the season, seedheads will attract smaller birds like finches.

Beebalm can be grown from seed or as established plants. This beautiful plant is in the mint family, and most varieties have a tendency to quickly spread through the garden via underground runners. Weeding and dividing this fragrant perennial is one of the true pleasures of early summer - you’ll understand the moment you brush against a mature stand.

Birds Attracted to Beebalm

Hummingbirds are the primary birds attracted to beebalm, but if you leave the round seed heads in place, finches, sparrows and other small birds will also feast upon the small thistle-like seeds. This may take a bit of determination on the part of the gardener, as bee-balm is often defoliated by powdery mildew late in the season and the temptation is to cut it to the ground. Instead, plant it in association with other blousy perennials such as ornamental grasses to hide those unattractive legs and keep the birds happy.

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Cultivation Guidelines for Beebalm

Beebalm can be grown from seed or from established plants. If sowing seed, find a sunny, average-to-moist location with a good amount of organic matter in the soil. Prepare seed bed by raking to a fine tilth. Broadcast the seed thinly and cover lightly, keeping moist. Many of the most popular varieties do much better in a moist location, so do not spare the hose but make sure the soil drains well. If planting established plants, space 12-18 inches apart and follow the same cultivation requirements. Consistent moisture encourages resistance to powdery mildew, so consider this as you water your garden.

Planting Native Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) to Feed Birds

A Goldfinch blending right in with Black Eyed Susans in bloom.
A Goldfinch blending right in with Black Eyed Susans in bloom.

Black Eyed Susan (or Rudbeckia) are North American natives famous for their sunny yellow petals and dark center cones. Later in the season, seedheads will attract smaller birds. These bright and sunny flowers are easy to grow, and will bloom for weeks from early summer to early fall. Black Eyed Susan is a versatile, popular flower that can be grown from seed or as established plants. They can easily reseed and are known to spread out easily. Like Coneflowers, you can leave the seedheads standing to attract birds through the fall, while offering insect habitat. 

Birds Attracted to Black Eyed Susan

Black Eyed Susan attract beneficial insects, which in turn helps to attract birds that feed on insects - which are particularly important when birds are raising their young. (For example, it takes 5,000 to 9,000 insects to feed one nest of baby chickadees!) The prominent seedheads also provide food for smaller birds. Birds commonly attracted to Black Eyed Susan include goldfinches, chickadees, eastern towhee, cardinals, and nuthatches.

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Cultivation Guidelines for Black Eyed Susan

Beebalm can be grown from seed or from established plants. They thrive in full sun, but some varieties will also tolerate part shade. All Rudbeckias tolerate a wide range of soil types, from clay to loam. If you have very sandy soil which dries out easily, add organic matter to help the soil retain moisture. If sowing seed, find a sunny, average-to-moist location with a good amount of organic matter in the soil. Prepare seed bed by raking to a fine tilth. Broadcast the seed thinly, but do not cover, as seeds need light to germinate. Once established, Balck Eyed Susan can tolerate dry soil for a few weeks, but remember to water during prolonged drought.

If planting potted plants, space 18 inches apart and follow the same cultivation requirements. 

Planting Native Zinnia to Feed Birds

Zinnias are easy to grow, and provide big rewards with little effort.
Zinnias are easy to grow, and provide big rewards with little effort.

It's easy to smile when you see these flowers popping up in summer! Zinnias bloom in bold, vibrant colors, and whichever color you choose, the nectar-rich blooms and seeds sure to attract birds and pollinators to your garden. These sun-loving, drought-tolerant perennials are native to Southwestern North America and Central and South America. They thrive in tough places, are easy to raise from seed, and continue to self-seed year after year.

Birds Attracted to Zinnia

Goldfinches adore Zinnias, and the splash of gold in the garden as they flit from seedhead to seedhead will delight you. House finches, titmouse, nuthatches, sparrows, and chickadees are regular visitors. Hummingbirds are also attracted to the brightly colored nectar-rich blooms.

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Cultivation Guidelines for Zinnia

Zinnias are well-known for creating the backbone to children’s gardens because they’re just so easy to grow. Sun, average soil, and average water requirements are their main needs. Make sure that the soil is well-draining, as they hate wet feet and will often rot or succumb to fungal disease. In cooler, wetter climates, you may have trouble with diseases, and it’s often advisable to start them in seed pots in a greenhouse where you can control conditions – transplanting them to gritty, well-draining soil later. Otherwise, spread the seed thinly in spring and rake it in, tamping the soil down firmly. When seedlings emerge, thin to 6 inches, and keep slightly moist as they establish.

Bird on top of Bird House with Echinacea and Bee Balm

Shop Native Wildflowers That Attract Pollinators

Your garden can make a difference. You can help feed your favorite birds, bees, butterflies and more by choosing native plants that will provide food and habitat. Support wildlife in your area and help restore a healthy ecosystem from the ground up.

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