Plants With Seeds to Feed the Birds

Garden Plants With Seeds Birds Love

Nov 16, 2017
Clematis Seed Head

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Most of the garden has been stripped down to bare bones but I am in no hurry to cut down any plants that have interesting seed heads. The birds fully appreciate having a smorgasbord of seeds to choose from and we love watching them. 

While bird feeders are always nice, wild birds like to forage for their own bird food. Plants with seed heads not only provide nourishment but also and nesting material. Leave them until spring.

Flower arrangers and florists also know the value of dried seed pods and berries for winter arrangements but instead of cutting them to bring indoors—and add to the clutter and dust catchers—I’ll just let them stand. It gives me an excuse to wander around the yard and see how they are doing. Here are 12 plants I’ve checked in on during my seedwalk.

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  • Winterberry is the brightest draw in the garden at this time of year. It is a native American holly that is a favorite with migrating birds. I try to add another bush to my collection every fall when they go on sale.

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  • Lunaria shakes its papery silver dollars in the slightest breeze. They are a little fragile and will end up as tattered wrecks by the New Year.

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  • Crabapples seem to last the longest on the trees until the robins finally swoop in and eat them in early spring.

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  • Clematis seedheads look like cheerleader pom-poms. Their long silky white fuzz must have inspired one of the plant’s common names - old man’s beard. I think they could have inspired some Dr. Seuss characters too!

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  • Chinese paper lanterns are still fairly bright but eventually the papery covering will lose color and be reduced to just a skeleton.

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  • Belamcanda is called the blackberry lily for its fat blackberry-like seeds. The stalks are sturdy enough to stand most of the winter unless a heavy wet snowfall takes them down early.

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  • Nigella, also called love-in-a-mist, has a round seedpod that looks like a blowfish! An heirloom plant, its seeds were crushed and used to get rid of freckles. What’s so bad about freckles?

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  • Teasel is another antique plant. It was grown commercially to be used for “teasing” or raising the nap on woolen cloth. My friend Jack was from Skaneateles New York which he claimed was the teasel capital of the world! I can’t help but think of him every time I see this plant. The prickly seedpods look lethal but birds are able to wrestle the seeds out from between the spikes.

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  • Coneflowers have dropped their petals but the seed-laden central cones are still standing, much to the delight of the birds.

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  • Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ has wide flat flowerheads that age in color from pink to burgundy to deep copper. They tend to be top-heavy especially when they have caught an inch or two of wet snow.

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  • Agastache has the strongest architectural presence in the garden, still towering over me. Birds can perch on their bristly seedheads and chow down while keeping an bird’s eye view of the garden.

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  • Asclepias tuberosa is a cousin to the common milkweed. It is only about 2 feet tall and forms smaller seedpods but they still break open when ripe to release their seeds to the wind.

Winter is on the doorstep. Time to take a walk on the seedy side and celebrate the seasons of nature.

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You just might find a hidden treasure like this robin’s nest that was nestled in our magnolia tree.

Learn more about wild bird food preferences.

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

Reader Comments

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Leaving plants for wild birds

I also leave many native wildflowers go to seed for the winter birds. My favorite is the beautiful golden rod.

outdoor plants

I would love to add plants to my property with the intent of giving my wild birds foraging opportunities... but.. and a really big BUT... I do not want to add any plants that are INVASIVE... my world is already being invaded by non-native invasive plants introduced by uninformed gardeners and spread by birds and the wind. That said, it would be very beneficial to all ... if articles promoting any plants...included all available negative propagation data. or at least links to that information... The Goal = informed horticulturalists.
Just sayin'

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