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5 Native Plants for Birds

5 Native Plants for Birds

By Kerry Meyer for Proven Winners
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners

One of the greatest joys in gardening is observing the fauna that shares your garden with you. You are probably already attuned to the pollinating bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. However, there are many other critters that may call your garden home (or at least come to visit from time to time). Let's take a closer look at five plants that can help you welcome all sorts of birds, including our beloved hummingbirds, to your little piece of paradise.

Below, you will find five North American native cultivars you could be growing to support your local bird population. Some provide food while others make a safe place to shelter and nest. Remember to supply fresh water too if you'd like the birds to stick around.

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Summersong™ Firefinch™ Echinacea

Coneflower (Echinacea)

There are several different native species of coneflowers in North America. Plant breeders have crossed many of them to come up with brightly colored selections like those you'll find in the Color Coded® series. Their large, fragrant blossoms are popular among butterflies and bees.

Once the flower petals fade, goldfinches and other songbirds move in to feast on all the seeds packed into those spiny cones. Since Echinacea stems are thick and sturdy, they can easily handle the weight of the birds. Leave your coneflower’s seed heads standing at the end of the season to provide an early winter food source for birds.

Echinacea grows best in full sun but will also flower in part sun. Most are hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4-8. Well-drained soil is important, especially in winter, as plants that sit wet for too long can easily rot.

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Prairie Winds® ‘Niagara Falls’ Panicum

Switch Grass (Panicum)

Switch grass is a common type of native prairie grass that forms dense clumps of foliage topped with wispy seed panicles from fall into winter. Each plant produces thousands of tiny seeds that small birds enjoy. When you leave these grasses standing through the winter, they turn a light parchment color that helps disguise birds that are hiding among them.

Our best-selling switch grass, 'Cheyenne Sky', is just as durable as the native species but adds dramatic scarlet red color to the mix beginning in early summer and turning all-red in fall. 'Niagara Falls' switch grass is especially full and floriferous, providing both shelter and food for birds from summer through winter. All are hardy in zones 4 through 9 and need full sun to grow well. They are drought tolerant once established but can also thrive in moist soil.

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Berry Poppins® winterberry holly

Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata)

Songbirds will flock to your garden to gorge on winterberries once they've ripened, which can be anywhere from early winter to late winter depending on where you live. By providing a winter food source, you'll encourage birds to make your garden home year-round. Winterberry holly supports fruit-eating birds like robins, catbirds, bluebirds, and waxwings, to name a few.

Additionally, birds often use winterberry holly shrubs for safe perching while they scope out their territory. Choose from the shorter Berry Poppins® or the taller Berry Heavy® red or gold varieties for the middle to back of the border. Remember that a male pollinator like Mr. Poppins® will be needed to obtain fruit.

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Aquavita™ Eastern Juniper

Eastern Juniper (Juniperus virginiana)

There are many different kinds of evergreen junipers, some of which are native to the U.S. One such native cultivar is the upright pyramidal Eastern juniper named Aquavita™. You’ll know it by its striking aqua-blue foliage that keeps its bright color through the winter. Large, pyramidal junipers like this provide year-round shelter and protection for birds from wind, snow and rain. They also enjoy snacking on Aquavita’s silvery blue berries throughout the year.

This is a very durable landscape plant that can handle sun, wind, drought, and deer pressure. It brings structure and color to the garden where it can be planted en masse as a screen or hedge or grown singly as a focal point. It does not require pruning to keep its graceful pyramidal form. Hardy in zones 4-9, full sun, grows 12-15’ tall and 3-4’ wide.

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Ladybird® Sunglow Texas Primrose

Texas Primrose (Calylophus)

If you are looking for a tough, self-sufficient flowering plant that thrives in heat and drought, consider Ladybird Sunglow Texas primroses. This Southwest native needs full sun and well-drained soil. It works beautifully in hanging baskets, window boxes, and upright containers as well as in the landscape. Though it is commonly grown as an annual, expect it to survive the winter in zones 8 through 10.

The nectar in Texas primrose blossoms is a delight for hummingbirds, butterflies, and pollinating bees. Since it blooms continuously from spring through fall, these creatures can always count on them for feeding. Because of its wispy foliage, deer typically pass this plant right on by in favor of something meatier.

Learn more about gardening for hummingbirds:

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Patent Information: Prairie Winds® 'Cheyenne Sky' Panicum virgatum USPP23209; Prairie Winds® 'Niagara Falls' Panicum virgatum USPPAF CanPBRAF; Berry Poppins® Ilex verticillata USPP25835 Can 5286; Mr. Poppins® Ilex verticillata USPP25834 Can 5287; Aquavita™ Juniperus virginiana USPP33287; Ladybird® Sunglow Calylophus USPP34148 CanPBRAF

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