• ljmarkson

Essential Native Perennials for a Winter Seedhead Bird Garden

OR How to Intentionally Let Your Yard to Go To Seed

Winter has descended on Georgia and I'm ready for it! Thanks to my ongoing naturescaping (landscaping to coexist with nature) my yard is becoming a little more attractive to visiting birds and passing humans all year long. Summer is easy, but the biggest challenge has been making a winter seedhead bird garden in my semi-urban neighborhood. My yard needs to be natural enough to attract birds and positive interest from people walking by, yet not wild looking enough for neighbors to think I'm letting things go to seed...when in fact this is exactly what I'm doing!

Nature creates bouquets throughout my winter seedhead bird garden...the birds even helped make this one more eye-catching by eating the seedhead of the coneflower (echinacea)

To help anyone who wants to make their yard more habitat friendly in the winter by planting their own seedhead bird garden, I've distilled the hundreds of native plants growing in my yard into a subjective list of the top 14 essential native perennials and 1 standout annual to add to the yard. The trick was finding native plants that offer both a variety of seed sources for birds and are interesting to look at in the dead of winter.

black-eyed susan (rudbeckia triloba), horsemint (monarda punctata), and blue mist flower (conoclinium coelestinum) seedheads add winter beauty AND bird food to my right-of-way strip

For more biodiversity, I would encourage planting a range of varieties of the general species I've listed. The multiple varieties of asters and goldenrod growing in my yard all have slightly different seedheads.

Endangerd Georgia aster (symphyotrichum georgianum) is one of many varieties of aster seedheads in my winter seedhead bird garden

My list favors the more common and easier to find native plants. Unlike traditional gardening, coexisting with nature is not about possessing the most unique and hardest to find plant, but figuring out what the most useful plants for wildlife are in your yard. Even a small sunny patch of a half dozen of native plants from this list would go a long way towards helping nurture nature in your yard's ecosystem next winter.

This open stokes aster (stokesia laevis) seedhead looks like some kind of spiny creature

14 Essential Native Perennials and 1 Native Annual for a Winter Seedhead Bird Garden (in general order of how highly I recommend them plus how easy they might be to add to your yard)

  1. coneflower (echinacea)

  2. hyssop (agastache)

  3. aster (symphyotrichum)

  4. bee-balm (monarda)

  5. black-eyed or brown-eyes Susan (rudbeckia)

  6. goldenrod (solidago)

  7. joe-pye weed (eutrochium purpureum)

  8. blanket flower (gaillardia) self-seeding annual with a deliciously popular seedhead for birds.

  9. blue mist flower (conoclinium coelestinum)

  10. blazing star (liatris)

  11. mountain mint (pycnanthemum)

  12. stokes aster (stokesia)

  13. beardstongue (penstemon)

  14. native mallow (hibiscus)

  15. thimble-weed (anemone virginiana)

Tall striking thimbleweed (anemone virginiana) seedheads are bursting with abundant fluff for birds to build nests with

Both marshallia trinervia (broadleaf barbara’s buttons) and chelone (turtle head) are also structurally interesting. They’re easy but slow growers for me, aren't the biggest birds magnets, and I'm not sure how common they are, so I’m leaving them off the main list but suggesting you add them if you have all the other plants on the list.

You have to look closely to see how perfect the petite broadleaf barbara's button (marshallia trinervia) seedheads are.

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