8 Easy Ways to Landscape Under Bird Feeders
Why Is There Bare Dirt Under My Bird Feeder?
Did you know that sunflower seed hulls contain a toxin that affects other plants? It can keep them from sprouting and developing a root system. Another plant that does this is the black walnut tree, and there are others as well. It’s a survival mechanism set up within the plant itself, otherwise known as allelopathy.
This chemical warfare ensures the plant has enough room to develop without the neighbors trying to muscle in on its territory, and that it has exclusive access to the nutrients it needs to grow strong.
So if you're feeding the birds sunflower seeds, the spot under your bird feeder might not look so pretty.
8 Solutions for the Bare Spot Under Your Bird Feeders
So if nothing seems to grow under your bird feeders, or some plants nearby manage to sprout but are underdeveloped and have yellowing leaves, here are some solutions.
- Buy a no-mess blend of birdseed.
- Use a seed tray.
- Prepare to experiment with different plants (below, you'll find a list of plants that might work for you).
- Consider a wildflower garden.
- Consider low-growing shrubs (see list below).
- Install a little concrete 'patio.'
- Use pavers or flagstones.
- Consider leaving the spot bare (below, I explain why).
1. Buy No-Mess Blend Birdseed Mix
This blend is more expensive, but there is no waste since the seed hulls have been removed and there are no fillers (like grass and oat seeds) to sprout. What price can you put on reducing the chance of disease-born organisms from accumulating under the feeders? We need to keep our birds safe and healthy.
2. Use a Seed Tray
Use a tray that catches seeds and hulls before they hit the ground. This tray attaches to the bird feeder pole with a clamp that is included.
Birds can easily access the seeds that fall into it, but the squirrels don't seem to be able to climb over the extra large baffle.
Drainage holes keep seeds from becoming waterlogged and moldy. Seed hulls should be cleaned out and discarded regularly.
3. Experiment With Different Plants
Not everything is affected by the toxin in sunflower seeds. For example, sunflowers! There’s a huge variety of sunflowers from which to choose, including some fairly new varieties that have a beautiful deep red color. All of them produce seed heads that your songbirds will enjoy when they have ripened in late summer to early fall.
I have also had good luck with lamium, Mother-of-Thyme, and vinca vine (also known as periwinkle or creeping myrtle), which are ground covers. I have had moderate success with wild geraniums, which are favorites of the deer.
Which Plants Will Grow Under a Bird Feeder?
Plants that seem to be unaffected by the allelopathic properties in sunflower seeds include:
- Fairy roses (they have thorns that discourage four-footed predators)
- Day lilies
- creeping rosemary
- purple coneflowers
- tickseed coreopsis
- mint (also a rodent deterrent)
- lemon balm
- heuchera (coral bells)
- climbing roses can be trained around the bird feeder pole
- black-eyed Susan
Remember, if anything seems to be misshapen or stunted, it’s the toxin that's doing it. If the plant isn't thriving, try another plant on the list.
Before You Plant Anything...
- Clean up old bird seed and hulls from under bird feeders to prevent the growth of mold and disease-carrying organisms.
- Start with a good soil mix that includes organic compost.
4. Consider Planting a Wildflower Garden
Ground-foraging birds will be able to easily pick through the wildflower stalks for fallen seeds. Lots of birds are attracted by wildflower seeds in the fall and wintertime, too. Wildflowers are tough and will reseed themselves. Leave the dead heads to provide additional nourishment for overwintering birds.
5. Consider Planting Low-Growing Shrubs
Certain shrubs can take a lot of abuse from wildlife, but note that if you have visiting deer, they will nibble on your holly plants all winter long. I was worried one year when deer had done a number on my holly bushes, However, that spring the shrubs grew larger and spread out. They were better for having been browsed upon!
Here's how to do it:
- Attach a string to your feeder pole and measure out about three to four feet.
- Mark the perimeter with a hose.
- Plant boxwood or holly shrubs.
If you have predators that could hide under the shrubs and pounce on your birds, this is not the solution for you.
6. Pour a Little Concrete 'Patio'
A little 'patio' beneath the feeder makes it a lot easier to clean up the seed hulls with a rake or leaf vacuum.
- Make a circular or square form on the ground under your bird feeders into which you can pour concrete. For a decorative touch, you can imbed smooth river stones into the concrete just before it sets up.
- Plant annuals around the outside of the bird ’patio’ or add containers of plants.
- Make a stone pathway leading to the feeder and line it with pots of bird-friendly plants.
7. Install Pavers or Flagstones Under the Feeder
You can plant Irish moss or Mother-of-Thyme in between the stones.
- Mark out a 3’ to 4’ diameter circle under the bird feeder.
- Dig down 3” to 4” (depending upon the thickness of your stones)
- Replace the dirt with paving sand and tamp the paving sand to compact it.
- Add your stones. Use a level to ensure your stones won’t ‘trip you up.'
- Pour organic soil between the stones, and plant your moss or thyme.
- Water thoroughly and often.
Cleaning up the area will be easy using a broom or leaf vacuum.
8. Consider Leaving the Bare Patch for Easier Access to the Feeder
I have found that by raking up or vacuuming the hulls regularly, I can maintain the area for the ground-feeding birds like juncos, cardinals, sparrows, and finches. So sometimes, bare ground can be a good thing.
At the very least, ensure you make a pathway for easy access to fill the bird feeders.
Keep in mind that predators can use plants to their advantage when hunting the ground-feeding birds. If neighborhood or feral cats patrol your yard, it would not be wise to plant anything under which they might hide and pounce on unsuspecting birds. (To learn more about keeping unwanted animals away, read How to Deal With Unwanted Bird Feeder Visitors.)
How to Keep the Area Under the Bird Feeder Clean
Use a leaf vacuum or rake to get rid of all the old seed hulls on a regular basis. A build-up of seeds and hulls on the ground can cause mold to grow, and accumulations of bird droppings can produce disease organisms that adversely affect birds’ health.
Do You Have a Bare Spot Under Your Bird Feeders?
Feeding birds is satisfying and fun. Now you have lots of solutions from which to choose to keep your birds happy, and your bird feeding area as beautiful as the rest of your yard.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.