Annuals for Wild Birds

Annuals are fast growing and easy to maintain. We all should have at least a few in their garden.  They are readily available at local garden centers each spring, or growing them from seeds is also a rewarding experience. The colors and scents of annual flowers are a season-long delight.  And by growing annuals, you can cut blossoms for indoor bouquets throughout the growing season.  The bright colors of annual flowers draw hummingbirds and butterflies.  Dozens of songbirds flock to the plants to hunt for insects or to feast at the seed heads.

Winter Feeding From Annuals

Annuals become more attractive to birds as summer ends.  When annuals such as cosmos and zinnias go to seed, they become a feeding station for many birds. 

After the flowers mature, they yield thousands of tiny oil-rich seeds that native birds adore.  Bachelor's-buttons attracts finches, buntings, and native sparrows when its flowers go to seed.  Because they mature at different times, you will see goldfinches and other birds foraging for seeds even while the plant is still blooming.

When the garden season ends, leave the dried annuals standing as long as you can, preferably through the winter.  Native birds that over winter in your area will scratch beneath them, gleaning leftover seed that has dropped to the ground.

Planting Annuals for Birds

Plant annuals densely, because birds feel more at home and safer in thick growth.  You can plant seedlings, or sow seeds directly in the garden.  To plant seeds, first scratch the soil surface with a claw-type hand tool, then scatter the seeds and crumble a few handfuls of soil over them.  Annuals sprout quickly and grow rapidly, but you'll need to keep the seedbed moist until the seedlings are established.

Mulch annuals with compost before they start to grow. (Be careful not to apply too thick a layer of mulch, or you will smother the new growth) Mulching will give them an extra boost of nutrients to stimulate flowering and will cut down on the need to weed and water.  Don't spend a lot of time weeding, or tending the plants, because birds prefer to visit an undisturbed garden. And, if you have dense growths of annuals, weeds won't get a foot-hold. 

Some Popular Annuals for Birds

   Plant Name         Birds Attracted             Plant Description        Planting Culture
Bachelor's Button Finches, buntings, sparrows 2' to 3' branching plants with 1 1/2" fringed flowers in blue, pink, rose, purple, and white from spring to fall Sow in fall or early spring in average soil.
Garden Balsam Flowers attract hummingbirds; seeds attract grosbeaks, cardinals, sparrows 1' to 2' succulent plants with pretty ruffled 2" flowers in pink, purple pink, or white in mid- to late summer Sow in early spring in full sun to shade in average soil
Cosmos Finches, sparrows, juncos, buntings Airy 2' to 4' branching plants with fine foliage and lovely 3" to 4" flowers in a range of pinks, reds, yellows, and orange. Sow in spring in full sun in average soil.
Love-lies-bleeding Finches, sparrows Bushy 3' to 4' plants, often with vivid magenta stems; with velvety-soft tiny flowers on dangling tassels up to 1' long in summer to fall Sow in full sun in mid-spring when soil is warm, in average to poor soil.
Mexican sunflower Flowers attract hummingbirds; seeds attract finches, buntings, cardinals, jays, titmice, chickadees, nuthatches 4' to 8' branching plants with large leaves and velvety stems; brilliant orange-red daisy like flowers from midsummer to early fall. Sow in full sun in average soil.  Leave plenty of space for plants to spread their branches.
Tickseed sunflower Finches, buntings, chickadees, titmice, sparrows 2' to 5' airy, branching plants with ferny foliage, covered in buttery yellow daisy like flowers in mid- to late summer. Sow in early spring in full sun in average soil.  Thrives in wet soil, too.
Zinnias Finches, sparrows, buntings, chickadees, titmice Bright or pastel, flat or mounded flowers on bushy, branching plants.  Flowers and plants vary widely in size, depending on species and cultivar. Sow in mid- spring in full sun in average soil.