Apr 24, 2017 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, April 2017

Top 10 Flowers You Can Grow for Birds

1) Purple Coneflower; 2) Zinnia; 3) Sunflowers; 4) Black-eyed susan; 5) Bee balm; 6) Larkspurs; 7) Fuchsia; 8) Salvia; 9) Coral bells; 10) Milkweed. Photos by USFWS, JOLAN DENES, PHOTOS.COM, THOMAS BARNES, ALAN SILVESTER BIDGEE, DOMINICUS BERGSMA, ANDRE KARWATH, ANNELI SALO, and ERICINSF.

Here are some garden stalwarts, plants that are easy to grow in most parts of the continent, that repay the slight effort of planting them with gifts for both people and birds.

1. Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea.

Purple coneflower is one of the most popular herbal cold remedies going. This big, robust prairie native feeds nectaring butterflies while the flowers are young, and goldfinches and sparrows after the seed heads mature. As a plus, it throws seed children all around, so plant it where it can make a family, and prepare to give plants away.

2. Zinnia, Zinnia elegans.

It's hard to beat old-fashioned zinnias for ease of growing, color impact, and bird appeal. This annual takes off planted directly in the ground, or started in flats. Hummingbirds constantly probe the tiny yellow true flowers inside the gaudy sepals, and goldfinches often tear the sepals away to get the seeds before they're even dry. If you plant masses, you won't mind trading a few flowers for brilliant yellow goldfinches.

3. Sunflower, Helianthus annuus.

Annual sunflowers are hot property in garden design in recent years. Goldfinches, cardinals, and woodpeckers have always known their charms. A row of giant sunflowers, grown from seed, can make a fast-growing, 12-foot-high property screen, and a black-oil sunflower plant can produce dozens of seed-heavy heads, festooned with birds. Beware of pollenless (and seedless) cutting sunflowers if you wish to attract birds. The Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifolia, has smaller, blaze-orange flowers and tasty seeds as well.

4. Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta.

This native wildflower and its cultivars, the gloriosa daisies, are terrific perennials that can grow to the size of a bushel basket and bloom hard through heat and drought. Finches and winter sparrows and juncos appreciate the seeds in their black, conelike heads.

5. Bee balm, Monarda didyma.

If you want to watch natural hummingbird territoriality at work, plant bee balm. Its whorled heads of scarlet or pink flowers ooze with tangy nectar and drive hummingbirds crazy as each bird tries to keep it all to itself. This perennial, like other mints, likes to crawl, so plan to give it some room. Newer cultivars like Cambridge Scarlet are more resistant to mildew.

6. Larkspurs and delphiniums, Delphinium ajacus, D. belladonna, and others.

Though some, such as scarlet larkspur, come in red, the predominant shades of delphiniums are lovely, cool blues. Their upright spikes form a gorgeous backdrop for lower-growing plants. This, perhaps surprisingly, doesn't stop the hummingbirds from visiting. Annual larkspurs self-sow freely, and the finest plants are those that germinate in the fall and overwinter.

7. Fuchsia, Fuchsia cultivars.

If you're trying to hang out the welcome sign for hummingbirds, try hanging a basket of fuchsia in a shady spot. Avoid the double, ruffled kinds, and choose single-flowered varieties—they're much easier to probe for nectar. My favorite of all is the annual Gartenmeister Bonstedt,'an erect, bronze-leaved plant with elegant masses of coral-red tubes that look great in planters and pots. Warning: rabbits adore them, hence the hanging baskets!

8. Salvia, Salvia splendens, S. farinosa, and others.

Drought-resistant and willing, salvias are usually grown as annuals. They offer the tubular flowers hummingbirds prefer, abundant nectar, and great color, in every shade from splendens' hot red, wine, purple, and peach, to farinosa's true blue.

9. Coral bells, Heuchera sanguinea.

A modest mound of gray-green foliage bursts forth with a summer-long display of foamy, pink bells on wiry stems, which will buzz with hummingbirds as long as they bloom. This hardy perennial likes partial shade and plenty of moisture.

10. Milkweed, Asclepias species.

While it's best known as being essential for monarch butterfly caterpillars, milkweed attracts many other insects that feed birds. Some birds use the downy fiber attached to seeds to line nests. There are many varieties of milkweed on the market. Try to find one native to your area so it will grow easily in your soil and climate.

About Julie Zickefoose

Julie is a naturalist, author, artist, and photographer. She lives in Whipple, Ohio. Follow her blog at juliezickefoose.blogspot.com.

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The Latest Comments

  • I am excited to have my daughter’s tree this year, since my landlord has removed the lovely yew next to my patio, which was the only shelter for birds at my feeder.
    by pmalcpoet, Mon, 20 Dec 2021
  • Goldfinches will continue as long as Swiss chard is available. I'm watching one eating chard right now (mid-November in Vermont).
    by Brian Tremback, Sun, 14 Nov 2021
  • Birds are on the decline though sunflowers are rarely touched and for weeks hardly .eaten. I'll try a few sparing nuts on the table and a fat ball broken for jackdaws and tits but mealworms were a summer favourite being my go to choice
    by Paul Harabaras, Thu, 04 Nov 2021
  • I’ve been enjoying goldfinches eating coneflower/ echinacea seeds in my new pollinator garden! I will leave the plants out all winter for them if the seeds keep that long? Or should I deadhead and put them in a dry area? Im in CT and thought they migrated, but didn’t know they put in winter coats! What do they eat in winter without bird feeders?
    by Anne Sheffield, Sat, 04 Sep 2021
  • Hi Gary, I will pass your question along to Birdsquatch next time I see him. He knows infinitely more about nocturnal wildlife than I do. Where do you live? That's pretty important in figuring out the answer. But the thief could be raccoons, deer, or flying squirrels. Do you live in the woods? Are there trees near your feeder, or must the culprit climb a shepherd's hook or pole? Dawn Hewitt, Watching Backyard Birds
    by Dawn Hewitt, Mon, 30 Aug 2021