How To Plant a Bird Garden With Native Flowers

bird garden with native flowersbird 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 sunflowerautumn sunflower
Customer Photo by Annette R. beautifully captures a bird resting upon an Autumn Sunflower.
sunflower seeds in pansunflower 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 finches, chickadees, meadowlarks and others hanging onto the large, full heads and 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, though the most popular seed plants are usually annual cultivars.

Birds Attracted to Sunflowers

Sunflower seed is not the most popular birdseed without good reason! A host of birds enjoy this seed, including tufted titmouse, chickadee, meadowlark, mourning dove, goldfinch, house finch, cardinal, red-winged blackbird, quail and many types of sparrows. 

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 the seed heads to feed the birds naturally, just leave them 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 (there are almost always unripened seeds in the center of the flower) and allow the heads to dry on a cookie sheet somewhere dry and warm. When they are fairly dry and come apart with a little encouragement, pull the seeds off and store in jars or freezer bags. Learn More: How to Harvest Sunflower Seeds.

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Planting Native Echinacea (Coneflowers) to Feed Birds

american gold finch on a echinacea or conefloweramerican gold finch on a echinacea or coneflower
An American Gold Finch visits a beneficial and beautiful plot of Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)

The strong stems and bright colors of purple coneflower (also known as Echinacea) make them one of the most beloved of our native plants – both to birds and to gardeners alike! Purists may wish to grow only the purple, white or pink varieties native to our prairies and open woodlands, but many colors have been added to this rainbow over the last decade, giving the gardener many choices. True to their name they are a cone-shaped flower with prominent, spiky seed heads in black-to-brown.

Though coneflower seed can be harvested by the gardener, it is much more enjoyable to leave the seed heads 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 swaying on the erect seed heads, 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, among them, goldfinch, sparrow, brown towhee, indigo bunting, cardinal, house finch, grouse and chickadee.

Cultivation Guidelines for Coneflowers

Coneflowers are not only a wonderful first plant to try when feeding birds, but a great choice when you are putting together a children’s garden. They require little care, 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. Seeds should be just barely covered and kept moist until germination. Thin 8-12 inches apart. Plants will self-seed, though some new cultivars will not come true from seed. You may wish to encourage later flowering in the season for fall feeding by dead-heading the first blooms in mid-summer.

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Hummingbirds are beloved in the garden, and for good reason! They're beautiful, fun to watch, and happily pollinate your garden.

Planting Native Bee Balm to Feed Birds

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. Quite apart from the host of pollinating insects hovering over the spiky whorls of red, purple, pink or white flowers in summertime, 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, but it is important to realize that this beautiful plant is in the mint family. As such it has a tendency to become aggressive in the garden and will quickly spread via underground runners. Still, weeding around the clumps and dividing this fragrant perennial is one of the true pleasures of early summer. You’ll understand the minute 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.

hummingbird and bee balmhummingbird and bee balm
Despite the indication of their name, Birds love Bee Balm as much as the bees do.

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. Moisture encourages resistance to powdery mildew, so consider this as you water your garden.

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Planting Native Zinnia to Feed Birds

Zinnia is easy to grow, and provides high rewards with little effort. Both gardeners and pollinators alike love this bright annual.Zinnia is easy to grow, and provides high rewards with little effort. Both gardeners and pollinators alike love this bright annual.
Zinnia is easy to grow, and provides high rewards with little effort. Both gardeners, and pollinators alike love this bright annual with lots of benefits.

It is easy to smile when you see these native heralds of summer growing against a country fence or springing up in unexpected places. Zinnia come in so many colors that it is difficult to choose which one will work for your garden. Whichever color mix you choose, the seeds produced will all work for visiting birds.

It probably won’t surprise the gardener that 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 zinnia and the splash of gold in the garden as they flit from seed head to seed head will delight you. House finch, titmouse, nuthatch, sparrow and chickadees are also regular favorites.

Cultivation Guidelines for Zinnia

Zinnia seeds are well-known for creating the backbone to children’s gardens because they’re just so easy to go. Sunny, average soil and average-to-dry water requirements are their main needs. Make sure that the soil is well-draining. 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.

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5 Tips For A Bird Friendly Garden

Seed isn’t the only thing that attracts birds and keeps them in your garden.

  1. Provide a clean source of water for best results when creating a native flower garden for your birds. Make sure to break the ice each morning if you live in a cold climate.
  2. Habitat is also very important. Providing hiding and nesting places for birds protects them and makes your garden very attractive to visiting wildlife. Consider using ornamental grasses & small trees as you build your bird sanctuary, not just seed-producing perennials.
  3. Bird houses are a wonderful way of attracting a nesting pair of birds. Make sure that you are not only matching the house and entry hole to the type of bird you wish to attract, but that you have snake baffles on the pole to ensure that all that nest-building is not in vain.
  4. Remember – a ‘messy’ fall garden is often the most appealing to birds. Leave those seed heads and habitat areas in place, instead of mowing or cutting down your plants, through the fall and winter and give yourself a bit of a break in the process.
  5. Lastly, don’t forget to invest in a great pair of binoculars. That way some of the best bird-watching can happen right from the comfort of your living room window!
Goldfinches In The GardenGoldfinches In The Garden
Goldfinches In The Garden

Shop Wildflowers For Birds and Pollinators

  1. spring into summer wildflower mix

    The Spring Into Summer Wildflower Seed Mix (formerly known as Summer Splash) offers up some of the biggest color of any mixture we carry! With 46 easy-to-grow species, this is a grea...

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    Spring Into Summer Seasonal Wildflower Seed Mix Spring Into Summer Seasonal Wildflower Seed Mix
    As low as $9.95 Sale $8.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    The Spring Into Summer Wildflower Seed Mix (formerly known as Summer Splash) offers up some of the biggest color of any mixture we carry! With 46 easy-to-grow species, this is a great choice for new garden beds, replacing part of your lawn, or creating a naturalized meadow. Packed with heat-tolerant quick bloomers, this mix can be planted well into the summer for color in the first season. An easy, rewarding mix for those new to wildflowers and experts alike.
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  2. Monarch Butterfly Wildflower Seed Mix

    The Monarch Butterfly Wildflower Mix is an easy-to-grow compilation of 27 wildflowers that will thrive in any sunny location throughout the US. Including 4 different types of Milkwee...

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    Monarch Butterfly Wildflower Seed Mix Monarch Butterfly Wildflower Seed Mix
    As low as $15.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    The Monarch Butterfly Wildflower Mix is an easy-to-grow compilation of 27 wildflowers that will thrive in any sunny location throughout the US. Including 4 different types of Milkweed to ensure Monarchs have plenty of host plants to lay their eggs on, this mix also contains a variety of nectar-rich wildflowers for energizing monarch populations before they migrate. A blend of annuals and perennials provide early and lasting color. This is your go-to mixture for creating an official Monarch Waystation or simply helping out the local pollinators in your area.
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  3. Beneficial Bug Wildflower Seed Mix

    This mixture attracts beneficial bugs to the garden. Beneficial bugs include lacewings, lady bugs, hover flies and parasitic wasps, which help to destroy harmful pests such as aphids...

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    Beneficial Bug Wildflower Seed Mix Beneficial Bug Wildflower Seed Mix
    As low as $11.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    This mixture attracts beneficial bugs to the garden. Beneficial bugs include lacewings, lady bugs, hover flies and parasitic wasps, which help to destroy harmful pests such as aphids, thrips and mites.
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  4. Honey Bee Wildflower Seed Mix, Photo Credit Heidi Erickson

    The Honey Bee Wildflower Mix features 19 nectar-rich wildflowers and clovers adored by bees. Easy to grow across much of the country (zones 1 - 8), this pollinator-friendly mix inclu...

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    Honey Bee Wildflower Seed Mix Honey Bee Wildflower Seed Mix
    As low as $10.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    The Honey Bee Wildflower Mix features 19 nectar-rich wildflowers and clovers adored by bees. Easy to grow across much of the country (zones 1 - 8), this pollinator-friendly mix includes 12 annual varieties like Lacy Phacelia and Yellow Prairie Coneflower for quick, first-season blooms, and 7 perennial wildflowers like Mexican Hat and Echinacea for years of lasting color in the seasons to follow. Contains 100% Pure, non-GMO and Neonicotinoid-free seeds that are guaranteed to grow.
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