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

Writer and nature artist Julie Zickefoose blogs at juliezickefoose.blogspot.com.

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  • I have experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019
  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018