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Planting Flowers for Birds

Plans begin in winter for a garden that will attract birds all year around.

Black-eyed SusanIn the middle of winter, I start having visions of flowers. Of buds pushing up from thawing soil. Of color spreading where lately has been only brown or white.

Maybe it’s the steady rain of garden catalogs arriving in my mailbox that stimulates my botanical imagination. Winter's the right time to start planning a bountiful garden for birds.

CardinalThe cardinal on the hawthorn twig must receive intimations from his own sources, for he has started singing again on sunny mornings, tentative phrases for now. He knows too. Spring is coming.

Landscaping for birds begins with trees and bushes. But the right flowers attract birds also. It's not the blossoms themselves that most birds want. Birds want the seeds that come later.

Gloriosa DaisiesDaisies of all kinds form generous, nutritious seeds. And leave those seeds for the birds! Don't deadhead all the blossoms when blooming is over. The dried seed heads will bring you finches, sparrows, cardinals, and towhes.

First you get the blossoms, and then in winter your garden will bloom again with gold of finches and red of cardinals. Win, win!

Butterfly on ZinniaBirds also love zinnias for their seeds. It's one of the easiest of flowers to grow. The selection of colors and forms is enormous. As a bonus, your zinnias will entice many species of butterflies into your garden.

In fact, the zinnia patch in your own garden is a great place to get closeup views and photos of butterflies. For a stunning experience of beauty, walk through your zinnia patch on a summer day with a close-up binocular such as the Pentax Papilio, which focuses as close as 18 inches, and see individual scales of color on the wings of a butterfly!

Jewel Birds in the Garden

Coral Bells & HummingbirdYou can easily bring hummingbirds into your garden with the judicious choice of flowers. Hummingbirds are especially drawn to red. They check out every speck of red in the landscape, including stop signs and the scarf around your neck.

So pull them into your garden with red flowers. And then deliver the goods by selecting flowers of any color, so long as they that give nectar.

Many hybrid flowers have been bred for size or color, at the expense of nectar. So I've learned to look for seeds of heirloom flowers that still have the power to attract hummingbirds.

Bee BalmSome of the best flowers for hummers include old-fashioned fuchsias, coral bells, bee balm (shown at right), hybiscus, and petunias.

With their long bills, hummingbirds are built for probing into trumpet-shaped throats (corollas) of flowers. Hummingbirds will investigate everything in your garden, and if it gives nectar, they'll visit it again and again.

For more attracting hummingbirds to the garden, see Diane Linsley's delightful essay, Flowers for Hummingbirds.

King Sunflower

SunflowerThe king of all birdseed flowers is the sunflower. Best are sunflowers that give soft, black-shelled seeds. The sunflower at left volunteered from sunflower seeds dropped beneath my feeder. Now I plant a few of those seeds in my garden each summer.

You can have a lot of fun raising your own sunflowers at home. The birds will delight in the crop, and you'll enjoy the birds. If possible, plant your sunflowers (in full sun) where you can see them from your dining room table, or wherever you spend time at home. Spice up your lunch by watching a chickadee land on top of a sunflower and bend over to pluck out the seeds.

Sunflower budIf you want to save some of your sunflowers for winter, put a paper grocery sack over each seed head and tie it around the stem. Leave some of the flower heads uncovered so that the hungry birds (who are perfectly aware of where your sunflowers are) will not be driven to peck through the paper.

When the seed heads have dried, cut them from the stems and store them in a metal container so that mice won't get into them. In winter, you can decorate your yard with sunflower faces. Wire one to a tree or a feeder, and wait about five minutes for the chickadees, cardinals, goldfinches, and blue jays to go for it.

Going Native

For the ultimate in bird gardening, try incorporating flowers that are native to your area. Sometimes I find that I like nature's gardening even better than my own carefully planned garden designs.

Asters & GoldenrodLike the combination of goldenrods and asters at left. I'm sure the birds helped plant it in a wild field near where I live. Now I'm copying what I found there in my own garden.

For now, I'm looking through the seed catalogs, noting especially any entry that says "attracts birds."

When planting time finally gets here, I’m going in for flowers that attract birds. That way I’ll get paid double for my enterprise. I’ll watch flowers and birds too

— Copyright 2007 Diane Porter

— Pictures copyright 1999-2006 Michael and Diane Porter


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