Don't Buy Birdseed — Grow It

Sunflowers are maybe the easiest annual to start in your garden. liz west/flickr

Have you priced birdseed lately? It’s expensive.

A family could enjoy some nice dinners for what it costs to fill backyard bird feeders. Think of it this way. In one city in the Southeast, a 50-pound bag of black oil sunflower seed cost $64.99. At a grocery store several doors away, that would buy eight 12-ounce rib-eye steaks ($7.99 a pound).

There’s a much more budget-friendly way to attract birds to your yard or garden. Grow the plants that produce the seed that birds love. When the plants bloom, just leave the flowers on the plants instead of cutting them.

Here are 10 blooming plants that produce seeds or nectar that birds can’t resist, plus tips on how to grow each plant and the types of birds the plants will attract.


A honey bee investigates an aster
Asters bloom around the time when other flowers are fading. It gives the honeybee a much-needed pollination option. lkordela/Shutterstock

Plant description: Asters are perennials with starry-shaped daisy-like flower heads. They bring delightful color to the garden in late summer and autumn when many summer flowers may be fading. Height ranges from 8 inches to 8 feet, depending on the type.

How to grow: There are many kinds of asters and you can find an aster for almost any garden condition. They also have many uses, such as in borders, rock gardens, or wildflower gardens.

Birds they attract: Cardinals, chickadees, goldfinches, indigo buntings, nuthatches, sparrows, towhees.

Autumn Joy' sedum

upclose pink flower sedum
'Autumn Joy' sedum is a great fall-blooming flower to plant to keep birds around past summer. By KanphotoSS/Shutterstock

Plant description: Just when most perennials slow down for the fall, sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ lives up to its name. That’s when its broccoli-shaped flower heads burst into a deep pink, copper or rosy-coral color on top of thick stalks 15-18 inches high. Plants are about 2 feet wide at maturity.

How to grow: This drought-tolerant sedum does best in or near the front of a full sun to light shade flower bed in ordinary garden soil with other perennials such as Agastache or Salvia and ornamental grasses. Grow in Zones 3-9.

Birds they attract: Juncos, chickadees, finches, warblers, sparrows and hummingbirds.

Black-eyed Susan (Rubeckia)

A bee on a black-eyed Susan
The black-eyed Susan, already a honeybee favorite, will become your favorite due to its easy planting schedule. D Coetzee [CC0 1.0]/Flickr

Plant description: These are tough native plants that range from 2-10 feet tall and 1.5 to 3 feet wide depending on the variety.

How to grow: This garden classic, with its dark centers and bright flowers, will add a pool of color to containers, beds, borders, wildflower meadows and native plant gardens. They are easy to grow when planted in sun to part sun and will bloom from mid-summer to fall. The flowers are traditionally yellow but breeders have begun offering new color choices. Grow in Zones 3-9.

Birds they attract: American goldfinches, chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, sparrows, and towhees.


Coreopsis in bloom
Coreopsis will grow just about anywhere. 'Plants You Can't Kill'

Plant description: Coreopsis, also called tickseed, is a genus of more than 100 wildflower species. About 30 are native to North America, and many grow well in the Southeast. The entire genus is the official state wildflower of Florida.

How to grow: Plants in the genus like well-drained soils, including sandy soil, and full to part sun. They flower best when watered regularly, but will tolerate drought. Like many wildflowers, they re-seed readily. Blooms last from late spring to late summer. Grow in Zones 3-9.

Birds they attract: Seed-eating birds such as cardinals and goldfinches.

Golden rod (Solidago)

Goldenrod grows in fields and parks, but it'll be happy in your garden, too. 'Plants You Can't Kill'

Plant description: Goldenrods flower from late summer into the fall. There are more than 50 species in North America, most of which have spectacular displays of bright yellow flowers. They do not cause allergies, as many believe. Ragweed, which blooms at the same time, is the culprit.

How to grow: Plant in full sun for best results. Grow in Zones 3-9.

Birds they attract: Cardinals, chickadees, titmice, sparrows and buntings.


Liatris spicata, or blazing star
The blazing star (Liatris spicata) won't eat any insects, but it will had a burst of color to your bog garden. Rachel Kramer/flickr

Plant description: Commonly known as Blazing Star or Gayfeather, this is an under-used genus of strong vertical bloom stems that carry multitudes of purple to lavender flowers.

How to grow: They do well in a sunny border, especially when grown with purple and white coneflowers that will help support their flowering stems. Grow in Zones 3-10.

Birds they attract: Seed-eating birds such as bluebirds. Liatris is also a hummingbird favorite!

Mexican sunflower (Tithonia)

A butterfly perches on a Mexican sunflower
They may not be actual sunflowers, but the Mexican sunflower is just as easy to grow as they are. 'Plants You Can't Kill'

Plant description: Mexican sunflower grows naturally from Mexico southward. It is a popular garden plant in the United States where it is treated as an annual or a perennial depending on the area where it is grown. Plants can range up to 8 feet, with shorter varieties available that will stay approximately 4 feet tall. The flowers are a deep orange-red and up to 3 inches in diameter. A variety with chrome-yellow flowers has come into the trade.

How to grow: Tithonias will grow in average soil with good drainage but must have good sun. They are heat- and drought-resistant but should not be planted until after all danger of frost has passed. It is important to stake the plants in late summer and fall when they are tall and top-heavy to keep them from being blown over during storms. Grow in zones 8-11.

Birds they attract: Mexican Sunflower attracts a wide variety of birds from hummingbirds that feed on its nectar to cowbirds.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea)

A bee crawls along a purple coneflower
Purple coneflowers are much beloved by honeybees. Jamie Weliver/USFWS [CC 1.0]/Flickr

Plant description: This is the poster child for flowers that grow well in home gardens and produce blooms that turn to seed heads that attract birds. The plants are drought tolerant and the flowers feature vibrant colors, showy cones, and a long bloom season. New varieties offer a wide range of colors, including purple, pink, white, yellow, and orange.

How to grow: Plant in full sun in well-drained locations for best results. Grow in zones 3-9.

Birds they attract: Finches will feast on the cones from midsummer to early fall.

Sunflower (Helianthus)

Sunflower faces the sun
Sunflowers come in many different varieties that will bloom well into autumn. skyseeker/flickr

Plant description: Most people probably think of sunflowers as giant plants with flowers the size of dinner plates. Some, in fact, are like that. Other Helianthus varieties stay small, some as low as 3 feet. All have bright yellow flowers that bring a splash of color to the late summer and fall garden.

How to grow: Plant in full sun in well-drained locations with loosened soil. Grow in zones 4-10.

Birds they attract: Goldfinches, titmice and cardinals.


Plant the right flowers and a bouquet will only be a few steps away. (Photo: Amy the Nurse [CC BY-ND 2.0]/Flickr)

Plant description: Few plants offer the dazzling array of color choices and large flowers of zinnias. Only dahlias and, perhaps, roses, can compete for size of bloom, intensity of color and showiness. Zinnias, except a few native species, are grown as annuals. They are easy to grow, heat tolerant, and put on a colorful mid-to-late summer show when other annuals are wilting in the heat.

How to grow: Zinnias can be grown from seed almost anywhere. They are not finicky about soil or water, but they do require full sun. After the danger of frost has passed, loosen the soil and either broadcast the seed and lightly cover it or poke a hole into the ground about a half inch deep and the cover the hole by pressing the soil around it. Water the soil after all of the seeds have been sown.

Birds they attract: Chipping sparrow, American goldfinch, fox sparrow, house finch, purple finch, dark-eyed junco, song sparrow, white-crowned sparrow and white-throated sparrow.