Cirsium rivulare

Grow your own bird food

Find out which plants to grow that provide food for birds.

Buying seed and food for birds can be expensive. But by taking advantage of the free seeds produced by many garden plants, you can save money, help garden birds thrive and enjoy an attractive garden, too.

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If you grow plants that produce easy-to-access or abundant seeds, birds won’t have to spend as much energy looking for food. Not only that, both the plants and the birds they attract will add interest to your garden.

Discover plants that can help you to feed garden birds.

By taking advantage of the free seeds produced by many garden plants, you can save money, help garden birds and enjoy an attractive garden, too.

Teasel

The tawny seedheads of teasel contain thousands of small oblong seeds. Sow them in February to attract goldfinches and as a low-energy alternative to nyjer seed. The purple and green flowerheads are a summer bonus.

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Hazel

Hazel makes an ideal wildlife plant for the smaller garden. Try planting it to attract strong-billed nuthatches, that can break open or hammer holes into the tough woody shells to reach the seed inside. Plant from December – March as a bare-root or potted shrub.

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Miscanthus

Greenfinches and goldfinches love the striking seedheads of miscanthus. Leave them be until March, for birds to feed on when other seedheads may have been dispersed. Plant in late February after soil has warmed up, or alternatively, try growing panicum grasses.

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Ornamental thistle

The flowers of Cirsium rivulare produce masses of fluffy seeds and are particularly attractive to finches and dunnocks. Just be sure to leave the last flowers on so they can set seed. Plant them in late February as the soil warms.

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Birch

Fast-growing native birches not only produce many seeds, but also support over 300 species of insect, to serve as food for birds. The papery white bark and pendulous branches are an additional bonus in winter.

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Sunflowers

The tightly packed ‘seeds’ of sunflowers are actually a type of dry fruit – achenes – each containing a single seed. When ripe in autumn, birds enjoy feeding on the oil-rich hearts, often discarding the husks. Sow seeds under cover from February to attract blue tits, great tits and chaffinches.

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Globe thistle

The spherical flowerheads of globe thistles are pleasing to the eye, and produce smooth brown seeds held inside each calyx, that are easily picked off by finches. The steel-blue flowers are also a bonus to insects in summer. Plant in late February, or sow outside in April.

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Kate Bradbury says

Don’t forget berrying plants, such as holly, hawthorn, ivy and cotoneaster. These provide a perennial supply of food just when the birds need it, and will save you money, too.

Kate Bradbury