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How to Plant Wildflowers
Step by step instructions on how to plant your wildflower seeds.
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Over 110 choices for fast color, such as poppies, cosmos, sunflowers, zinnia, and many more.
Help the birds, bees, butterflies & hummingbirds by planting wildflowers.
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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! Let’s look at a few of the most popular native plant selections for feeding and growing the community of birds in your backyard:
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.
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.
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 About How to Harvest Sunflowers
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, as a small seed 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 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.
Coneflowers attract many birds, among them, goldfinch, sparrow, brown towhee, indigo bunting, cardinal, house finch, grouse and chickadee.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Carefree Forsythia Lynwood Gold lights up the spring with its golden yellow blooms. The whole shrub produces an abundance of blooms! When colors fade, dark green foliage forms. Grea...
Little Lanterns' Columbine is a famous native wildflower, growing along woodland edges from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Brilliantly colorful with nodding, trumpet-shaped crimson an...
Jack in the Pulpit boasts unusual, hooded green blooms with burgundy-striped interiors that surround an upright spadix, known as the “Jack” inside each flower. Blooms evolve to ...
With two-toned flowers in deep red and white, ‘Hot Lips’ Sage brings drought resistant color to the summer and fall garden, attracting hummingbirds and butterflies in droves. Tal...
The bright color of Black-eyed Susan (also known as rudbeckia or coneflowers) are a great choice for gardeners who not only want to attract birds, but want to add hot sparks of color to garden beds. In yellows, oranges, chestnuts and reds, and often bi-colored, this native of moist North American meadows will act as a beacon to visiting birds looking for a filling snack.
Rudbeckia come in both annual and perennial varieties. Small cultivars like Rudbeckia hirta (the gloriosa daisy) are just as likely to attract birds as the tall stunner, Rudbeckia maxima, or giant coneflower. Don’t just stick with the common standards – try a few for fun and variety!
Much like Echinacea (purple coneflower), the slightly smaller, brown-to-black seedheads of Black-eyed Susan will attract goldfinch, sparrow, brown towhee, indigo bunting, cardinal, house finch, grouse and chickadee.
A sunny spot is preferred for Black-eyed Susans, but one that does not succumb to drought conditions too often. Though they can handle periods with low moisture, they are at their best with slightly damp, humusy soil. Moist meadow conditions are perfect, and typify their native habitats. Experiment if you have light shade – sometimes these sturdy plants will still flower well.
Sow thinly and rake in the seed only, tamping down to make good soil-seed contact. Moisture at this point is critical to the success of the seedling. Keep evenly moist and thin to 8-12 inches when seedlings are approximately 2-3 inches tall. If planting purchased perennials, space at the same distance and keep moist especially throughout their first year in the ground.
It is difficult not 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.
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.
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.
Seed isn’t the only thing that attracts birds and keeps them in your garden. For best results when creating a native flower garden for your birds, provide a clean source of water. Make sure to break the ice each morning if you live in a cold climate.
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.
Thinking of making that habitat a permanent one? Bird houses are a wonderful way of attracting a nesting pair of birds, but 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.
Remember – a ‘messy’ fall garden is often the most appealing to birds. Leave those seed heads and habitat areas in place through the fall and winter and give yourself a bit of a break in the process.
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!
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