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8 Easy Ways to Landscape Under Bird Feeders

At a very young age, Connie learned from her Grandma Pearl to observe and love backyard birds. She stills feeds and studies them every day.

Bird Buffet and Flower Gardens

Bird Buffet and Flower Gardens

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.

  1. Buy a no-mess blend of birdseed.
  2. Use a seed tray.
  3. Prepare to experiment with different plants (below, you'll find a list of plants that might work for you).
  4. Consider a wildflower garden.
  5. Consider low-growing shrubs (see list below).
  6. Install a little concrete 'patio.'
  7. Use pavers or flagstones.
  8. Consider leaving the spot bare (below, I explain why).
Vinca, also known as periwinkle and creeping myrtle, is a ground cover that works well in difficult places like under bird feeders.

Vinca, also known as periwinkle and creeping myrtle, is a ground cover that works well in difficult places like under bird feeders.

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.

Seed catcher tray and squirrel baffle.

Seed catcher tray and squirrel baffle.

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
  • dianthus
  • liriope
  • creeping rosemary
  • purple coneflowers
  • tickseed coreopsis
  • mint (also a rodent deterrent)
  • cotoneaster
  • lemon balm
  • heuchera (coral bells)
  • iris
  • lupines
  • Mother-of-Thyme
  • dahlias
  • lantana
  • climbing roses can be trained around the bird feeder pole
  • black-eyed Susan
  • clematis
  • vinca

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.

Wildflowers provide lots of seeds for overwintering birds.

Wildflowers provide lots of seeds 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.

Holly shrubs are good for planting near bird feeders.

Holly shrubs are good for planting near bird feeders.

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.

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.

Have You Found a Different Solution?

AJamison on February 14, 2020:

Under the bird feeder, place a shade fabric that allows the sun to go through. You can get it at Lowes by package or by the yard. I cut mine in half to cover the area under each bird feeder. I bought 2 packages & these have lasted 2+ years. Squirrels like it and for a while leave the feeders alone.

I pick the fabric up at night, -nobody out there is potty trained, right? Besides that, seeds on the ground attract rats & possums. But mostly, diseases are rampant. I use one set of fabrics while the other is disinfected over night & dried in the sun for the next day.

Replace water everyday and splash of bleach in water & rinse a lot. Feeders, same thing. House finch eye disease is acquired at feeders. They become blind & can find food or the feeder they know about. Photograph & send to Cornell Lab, note your area and date.

What you do outdoors bears great responsibility.

AJamison, Houston

Bonnie on August 07, 2018:

I have grass growing in the tray where the extra seed sits and when it rains, grass grows inside

Gayze in NY on May 21, 2018:

A good article, but I'd suggest removing daylilies (it's one word, by the way) from the safe list. Sunflower hulls destroyed the daylilies I had planted near the feeder, including one of my favorite cultivars, before I knew about the toxins.

AmyInNH on February 22, 2018:

Killing off my tiger lilies and iris. No effect on grass, which seems to love it as a mulch.

Teresa on September 18, 2016:

My birdfeeders (four feeders hung from a tree-like structure we made out of four by fours) are right into but on the edge of our woods. I could not keep the poison ivy and honeysuckle out fast enough to make way to fill feeders. Right now I have weed fabric down but that can only be a temporary solution. What about a very low decking for underneath the feeder "tree" and a little room for my seed storage trunk? I figure I could sweep and clean decking often with hose at least in the winter. Any feedback? I am afraid stone/concrete will not be very level at least not for long due to the multi tree roots.

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on November 16, 2013:

Old Roses, I too love to feed the groundfeeding birds, so I am planning on putting in holly shrubs to shield the bare spot from view. That way the birds can use the bushes for perching, shelter and food!

Thanks so much for stopping by ;) Pearl

Caren White on November 15, 2013:

I never thought about doing something with the bare spot under my feeders. What a great idea! I just throw seed under the feeders for the groundfeeding birds. As you recommend, I do clean up regularly. Great hub!

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on August 28, 2013:

Hi Dawn! I'm very pleased you found this article useful. Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your comments. They are very much appreciated. Have a wonderful day ;) Pearl

Dawn, Bloomington, IL on August 27, 2013:

Interesting and very informative. Thanks for sharing your ideas and expertise!

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on August 05, 2013:

FlourishAnyway, I am pleased to know that you are making sure the birds are accommodated, I know that you share my love of nature and all it has to offer us. Good luck with your new bird area; and thank you so much for the visit. It's always a pleasure to hear from you ;) Pearl

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 04, 2013:

Great information. I especially appreciate the list of plants. We are redesigning our backyard bird area since a large dead tree must come down, and this will definitely help.

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on July 16, 2013:

pagesvoice, I'm so glad you stopped by! And thank you so much for your votes. We do share the love of birds and nature. I had to nod my head when I read your comment about your wife teasing you. My husband bugs me about how much I feed the birds. Like you, I just keep the bird seed coming! After all, right now they are busy showing their youngsters where the feeders are, and how to land on them successfully! And when the young ones flutter their wings, the parents dutifully feed them seeds from the bird feeders.

I solved my issue with the empty bird seed hulls under the feeder by adding that large squirrel guard/seed catcher tray. Now my cardinals and juncos and other ground feeders eat from that.

There are still lots of seeds that fall from the other feeders. You should see all the squirrels and chipmunks that make short work of them!

Thanks for the visit, and the lovely comments my friend ;) Pearl

Dennis L. Page from New York/Pennsylvania border on July 15, 2013:

Voted up and ++++. It is always a pleasure to read your articles. We share a love of nature and our gardens. Although I was aware of the black walnut tree being toxic to surrounding plants, I never knew the same holds true for the sunflower.

I do have one bare spot under my maple tree where I hang two feeders. I'm not really troubled by the spot because it serves as an easy place to gather seeds for the morning doves and the chipmunks. I just made up a mixture of seed totaling over 100 pounds. My wife likes to tease by saying I'm responsible for lazy birds. I just smile as I go about filling more feeders.

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on June 22, 2013:

That's right, sgbrown, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em! I think a sunflower bed under your feeders would be a great idea. And it would save you some headaches. I have had the same problem in the past, so I can sympathize with your dilemma.

I'm glad you enjoyed this article, and it was so good to see you ;) Pearl

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on June 21, 2013:

Great information, Grandma Pearl! My hubby and I just had a conversation about the "mess" under the bird feeder the other day. The seeds that the birds have dropped have sprouted and I now have at least 20 sunflowers blooming under the bird feeder. The problem is that I have St. Augustine grass growing there at I can't mow it! the grass is getting so tall it really looks shaggy, but the sunflowers are so pretty and the butterflies love them! I may have to remove the grass and turn that area into a flower bed! :)

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on May 24, 2013:

Sharkye11, I'm so glad you enjoyed this article. Yes, you are definitely doing the right thing in planting wildflowers for the 3 b's to enjoy! You instinctively know that native plants will attract all kinds of beneficial insects and birds; and will have developed their own survival mechanisms.

By the way, I do the same thing when sunflower seeds sprout--I take them to a sunny place in the garden where they can do their own thing. I'm sure that you have loads of sunflowers in the late summer for your 3 b's to enjoy as well. I like your 3 b's--that's a very cool way to describe them!

I enjoyed reading your comments very much, and I'm so glad you stopped by! Stay safe in Oklahoma ;) Pearl

Jayme Kinsey from Oklahoma on May 23, 2013:

Very interesting. I've never noticed any difference in the flowers under the birdfeeders. Maybe because I tend to use wildflowers in those areas already? I did that so that birds, bees and butterflies (the three B's!) could all enjoy the same feeding area. I guess I was doing the right thing and didn't even know it! I do however notice sunflowers sprouting among the other plants from time to time. I always transplant them to another part of the garden where they can be admired without blcking the view of the wildlife.

Loved reading this! Voting up!

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on May 04, 2013:

Dear Eddy, I'm so glad you stopped by to see me! I know what you mean about juggling things; and then life happens, too! So much to do and so little time always. Thanks as ever for your kind words and votes and shares. You are a great source of inspiration to me, my friend. Love to you as well ;) Pearl

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on May 04, 2013:

Thank you so much Lisa Luv! I'm glad you enjoyed reading this article and liked my ideas for landscaping under bird feeders. Thanks also for your vote and shares; they are very much appreciated ;)

Pearl

Lisa J Warner AKA Lisa Luv from Conneticut, USA on May 04, 2013:

Wow - wonderful ideas. I love it! Voted up and shared.

Eiddwen from Wales on May 04, 2013:

Another wonderful gem Pearl and I am so glad to be back with you again. am hoping that this time I shall have enough time to juggle both hubs and writing course.

I vote up and share all around,

Enjoy your weekend and lots of love.

Eddy.

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on May 01, 2013:

ignugent, I'm very happy you found this article helpful. You are very welcome! Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I do appreciate it ;) Pearl

ignugent17 on May 01, 2013:

I am glad you share your ideas on bare spot under the bird feeders. It is really very useful. Thank you very much. :-)

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 29, 2013:

Deb, so true. The birds provide tons of beauty; and I never tire of watching them work at the seeds under the feeders. Lately I have had many robins and American tree sparrows as well as juncos looking for insects among those fallen birdseeds. Lots of fun to see them do their thing!

Connie

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 29, 2013:

Happyboomernurse, I'm pleased you found this article helpful and informative. It's amazing how plants have evolved to defend themselves, isn't it? Survival of the fittest for sure. I appreciate your supportive comments and votes. They are very much appreciated ;) Pearl

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 29, 2013:

Hi Vickiw! So nice to see you and read your lovely comments. I used to see towhees and quail quite often. But they have not been around in several years. I'm glad you have helpers at your feeders!

Thank you for your support; as always it is very much appreciated ;) Pearl

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on April 29, 2013:

Connie, I always found the bird feeding area to be more beautiful than the rest of the yard, due to the large amount of birds.

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on April 29, 2013:

My husband and I did hang a birdfeeder a few months ago and didn't know how to solve the problem of the bare patch that developed underneath it, nor did we know it could cause mold. Thanks for sharing these helpful solutions. Voted up across the board except for funny.

Vickiw on April 28, 2013:

Love these ideas. What a great Hub! I am a bird watcher, and yes, they do make quite a mess. My landscape helpers here are the towhees, juncoes and California quail that come by to keep the area under the bird feeders clear! You have some great ideas. It is really important not to disguise this area too much, because as you pointed out, cats love to stalk their prey from a handy concealment!

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 28, 2013:

Hi Mary! I know, there are so many solutions that I'm not sure which one I'm going to try on my new birdfeeder area. I've always wanted a setup right in front of the house so I can see my birds more easily in the wintertime. I think I may try the flagstone patio; that looks like a fun project.

Thanks as always for your supportive comments, and the votes. They are very much appreciated, as are you! Take care my friend ;) Pearl

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 28, 2013:

Hello galine! You are very wise not to feed birds when you have so many cats that would love to make a meal of them! I do appreciate your passing this article on to those who do feed birds. Thank you so much for the visit and the comments ;) Pearl

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 28, 2013:

Hi Rosie! I'm so glad to see you, and to hear that the hummers are on their way to my area very soon. I hung a nectar feeder out 2 days ago in anticipation of the ruby-throats' arrival.

Thank you so much for your supportive comments, and your votes. They are very much appreciated. Have a lovely hummer-filled day ;) Pearl

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 28, 2013:

Hey Irish! I'm pleased you paid me a visit, neighbor! Sunflowers aren't the only plant that has this chemical mechanism built in. You know when the gypsy moth invasion was so bad several years ago, the maples actually used a chemical signal to warn the trees nearby. Those trees in turn created a special chemical to help repel the gypsy moths the following year! Nature is truly amazing.

I'm heading outside soon to plant that salvia I bought yesterday. Can't waste all this good NYS sunshine!

Take care ;) Pearl

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 28, 2013:

bravewarrior, so glad to see you on this beautiful sunshiney day! Yes, it's best to plant sunflowers in their own garden so they don't feel threatened! But they do provide excellent food for the birds. Thanks so much for stopping by; I'm always pleased to see you and to read your comments ;) Pearl

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 28, 2013:

It's great to see you Angelo! Thank you so much for the visit, and for the Votes and Share. They are very much appreciated, my friend;) Pearl

Angelo52 on April 28, 2013:

Great ideas for the bird feeder bare spots. Thumbs up and shared.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on April 28, 2013:

Pearl, I don't have any bird feeders in my yard because I have an outside cat. However, this information is very useful. I was unaware of the toxic effect Sunflowers have on plants. That's good to know!

Shining Irish Eyes from Upstate, New York on April 28, 2013:

Wow - Pearl - I ad no idea some seeds gave off a toxin harmful to other plants. Excellent, thorough and informative article!

Enjoy the beautiful day!

Audrey Surma from Virginia on April 28, 2013:

Wonderful and informative hub. I too love to feed the birds and I am lucky to see all kinds of them. The hummingbirds have made their first appearance this week - it is a thrill. You have some great ideas that I will be passing on to friends and family. Voted up and useful.

galine from Chicago on April 27, 2013:

Very good article, real interesting. Have to many cats around to have bird feeder but know people who do and will tell them to read this article.

Mary Craig from New York on April 27, 2013:

Great ideas and suggestions. We have had weird plants grow from the birdseed...I like your suggestions...not sure which ones to try first. Thanks for all the help. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 27, 2013:

Billy, you are first to comment again! I am so grateful for your support and friendship. I know that I can always count on you, my friend!

Today we have finally reached a whopping 60 degrees. It seems that it has been interminably slow to warm up this spring. I am enjoying this sunshiney day though. I hope you have a wonderful weekend ;) Pearl

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2013:

From your mouth to our ears and then making it a reality. Pearl, you know your stuff and I am your student. Thank you for more great information. Our backyard friends in Olympia thank you.

Have a great weekend!

bill