While filling feeders with an assortment of seeds is an ongoing task for bird lovers in winter, you can also supplement that food supply with the most natural method of all: growing plants that produce seeds that birds will happily eat all year long.
Sunflowers are, of course, the classic bird seed flowers. This North American native flower is now grown in most gardens for its bright, cheerful blooms in late summer.
You can either leave the plants standing in your vegetable garden well into the winter, and only cut down the stalks once the heads have been stripped of their seeds, or cut the heads off after the seeds have ripened, and store them in paper bags until it’s time to set them outside for birds to feast on.
2. Globe Thistle
When the globe thistle flowers fade and it sets seed, goldfinches will cheerfully strip them clean.
In fact, in a year when these perennial flowers have lots of seeds, you may not see finches at your feeders because they’re too busy with the thistles.
Native to Asia and Europe, perennial globe thistles are hardy to zone 3, drought-resistant, and will thrive in anything but wet or heavy clay soil.
While the spent flowers are great in dried arrangements, don’t deprive your feathered friends of one of their favorite foods!
Allium flowers, closely related to the onion family, grow from fall-planted bulbs and bloom in late spring.
The round, purple, or white blooms fill in the gaps left when tulips fade, and then when their flowers are finished they leave behind seed heads full of small, black seeds that songbirds love.
Because other plants will have grown up and camouflaged the fading alliums, you can leave them intact to delight the birds without having them spoil the looks of your early summer garden.
4. Black-Eyed Susan
In August, gardens come alive with the bright orange daisy-like flowers of the black-eyed Susan. Not only do they fill in the late summer flower gap, but the seedheads are a favorite of cardinals, chickadees, finches, and nuthatches.
These perennials are also drought-resistant and very winter-hardy, so you’ll have them around to feed your birds for many years.
5. Bee Balm
Bee balm is another mid-to-late summer bloomer that is a perfect choice for a wildflower garden.
It’s extremely hardy and spreads freely to form a big patch of purple or red flowers, followed by seedheads filled with treats for finches and sparrows.
As a bonus, the nectar-rich flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds!
Coreopsis is not only a prolific bloomer all summer and fall, but once the flowers fade they leave behind a plentiful harvest of seeds for songbirds such as sparrows, goldfinches, cardinals, and chickadees.
It can get quite tall and weedy, and will spread readily, so it’s a good idea to plant this winter-hardy perennial in a wilder part of your yard. That won’t deter the birds from feasting on the seeds all season long and as long as they last in the winter!
Drought-proof and extremely winter-hardy, sedum is practically indestructible, making it a mainstay of the summer and autumn garden.
It will be one of the last flowers blooming in fall, but don’t be in a rush to cut down the stalks when the cold weather finally sets in.
Grosbeaks, finches, chickadees, and siskins will all happily clean out the seeds in early winter, and then you can cut the stems back to ground level to await fresh growth in spring.
As a bonus, bees and butterflies will drink the nectar of these late-blooming flowers, giving them a much-needed food source as winter approaches.
Goldenrod has gotten a bad rap as a prolific producer of pollen in late summer and early fall, but it’s actually ragweed that’s the real villain, so feel free to grow wild or cultivated varieties of this hardy perennial in your wildflower garden.
You can expect to see small songbirds such as goldfinches, chickadees, wrens, juncos, indigo buntings, cardinals, pine siskins, tufted titmice, and sparrows hanging on to the swaying stems loaded with tasty seeds.
Like with all of these seed-bearing plants, resist the temptation to tidy up your garden when hard frosts hit. Keep them standing so that the birds can eat the seeds.
9. Pearl Millet
With long, narrow seedheads similar to bullrushes, pearl millet has an interesting, sculptural look for a garden, and many birds will flock to strip the stalks bare when given the chance.
While it’s native to Central Africa, it has become naturalized across much of North America. It’s an annual grass that grows quickly to form a clump, with stalks reaching as much as 8 feet tall.
If you are looking for an interesting grass to add visual variety to your landscape, pearl millet is a great choice, and you will make birds such as doves, wrens, thrashers, juncos, and sparrows very happy.
10. Joe Pye Weed
If you grow Joe Pye weed, you are going to attract butterflies and bees to its sweet flowers, as well as finches, wrens, titmice, and juncos to the seedheads that will stand well into the winter.
Joe Pye weed can reach 7 feet in height, so find a spot for it where it won’t overwhelm other late-summer bloomers.
Native to North America, it is winter-hardy to zone 4. It prefers full sun in the moist soil next to a stream or pond.
It will spread easily, so plant it somewhere where it will have room to roam.
11. New England Aster
The New England aster is another tough, drought-resistant perennial that produces a big crop of seeds to feed winter birds, including finches, blue jays, chickadees, juncos, cardinals, towhees, and nuthatches.
Whether you grow it in a garden or container, leave the plants over winter before cutting down the stems. You’ll be rewarded with the sight of your feathered friends enjoying the seeds through the cold months.
Since it’s hardy to zone 4, it will probably come right back for another year of flower and seed production.
Native to Mexico, the cosmos is a popular annual flower throughout North America, where it is used as a cut flower and in container plantings.
However, it’s also a favorite source of seeds for mourning doves, sparrows, and goldfinches. Butterflies also visit them to gather nectar.
Blooming from early summer through the fall, the 4-foot stems sport simple flowers with daisy-like petals. Cosmos thrives in hot, dry weather and germinates easily from seeds sown after the last spring frost.
13. Purple Coneflower
Purple coneflower is equally well-suited to an elegant front-yard garden bed, or a wildflower meadow.
Native to the interior of North America from Hudson’s Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, the purple coneflower is drought-resistant and hardy to zone 3, making it a remarkably low-maintenance addition to your garden, and a magnet for all sorts of wildlife.
If you leave its seedheads over the winter, seed lovers such as finches, chickadees, juncos, blue jays, cardinals, mourning doves, and pine siskins will be able to supplement your feeder offerings.
Zinnias are one of the easiest garden annuals to grow, and make absolutely beautiful cut flowers.
Just drop the seeds into warm soil in late spring, and within a couple of months, your garden will be full of vibrant orange, red, and yellow flowers that are irresistible to hummingbirds and butterflies.
Then, when the seed heads form, titmice, finches, nuthatches, chickadees, and sparrows take over.
Teasel is an interesting-looking plant. It’s not native to the Western hemisphere, originating in Europe, but it has become naturalized throughout much of North America.
The spiky seedheads are filled with seeds loved by goldfinches, buntings, and sparrows.
It has become invasive in some regions, so be cautious when growing it in your yard, but it’s worth the effort to provide an extra source of winter food for non-migratory birds.