From the Ground Up: Plants to Create a Bird Habitat in Containers

add bird bath to garden to attrack birds plants



Love having birds in your yard? Do you have less space than you would like to garden? Becki Lynch, Linn County Master Gardener, has some answers for you on how to create a bird habitat using container gardens.

Q :Could you tell me some good plants that I could plant in a large pot that would not spread/multiply out of the pot that would be good for birds to eat or hide in. Also are there any small bushes with berries that one could plant in a yard that birds could feed upon?
A : What a great question - and very difficult to answer in the space of this article - but we can at least begin. First, containers (pots) are a great way to attract birds to areas where you can't plant directly into the ground. Because they are usually located close to the house, they will bring the wildlife to an area more easily visible and enjoyable for you. While some birds love to eat the fruit and pollen from plants, many are insect eaters and so are attracted to the plants that sustain them.

Planting herbs and nectar-rich plants will attract important pollinators like butterflies, ladybirds, bees and other insects, which in turn attract birds. And if you group planters together, you provide shelter between them for wildlife as well as increasing your watering efficiency.

Q :What are a few of the plants that work well and yet won't 'jump' out of the pot?
A : For hanging baskets, troughs and pots, snowdrops, English bluebells and aubrieta are insect favorites in the spring. Later, marigolds, lavender and heliotropes will prove a great show and attract butterflies and hoverflies.

Bees love herbs such as marjoram, rosemary, sage and thyme. Plant them in a window box or a pot by the kitchen door so you can easily access them for cooking. Leave herbs to flower for a really well attended wildlife buffet.

Climbers, such as honeysuckle and ivy are eas­ily grown in containers against a trellis and can provide food and shelter for birds and insects.

The simplest way to produce a container full of bird heaven is to buy a packet of mixed wildflower seeds containing flowers like oxeye daisies, campions, scabious, cornflowers and harebells. Sprinkle the seed onto peat-free compost in spring (check the packet for sowing times and don't add any fertilizer) and apart from keeping the pot watered (and the seeds protected from the birds until they germinate), the job is done.

Many perennial natives are excellent in large pots for up to 3 years, but must then be moved into the ground in order for them to continue to grow and mature. Examples of these plants are coneflowers, blackeyed susans, coreopsis, and blanket flower. A great favorite of hummingbirds is the Cardinal Flower.

Q :What small bushes and trees with berries can be planted in the yard (or large pots) for birds?
A : If you have room, shrubs and small trees make good container plants and can be used to hang bird feeders. Try to use droughttolerant species, though, and most will need to be moved to the ground within a few years. These are good examples of trees/shrubs which are 25 feet or less in height at maturity, and provide much appreciated berries over winter for the birds: Holly, berberis, Red twig dogwood, serviceberry, crabapples, and American Cranberry viburnum. Be sure to check, however, for those that need pollinators to produce the berries, and buy both a male and female plant.

As a last note, please don't forget to add a bird bath to your containers. The water will attract an even greater diversity of birds, is essential for their well-being, and their antics will simply be fun to watch. 


Brucemore in Bloom, 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Brucemore, 2160 Linden Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids. $12 to $15. 

Honeybee Queen Rearing Class, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday and June 2, Indian Creek Nature Center, 6665 Otis Rd. SE. No prior knowledge required. Cost is $65 to $75. Register at (319) 362-0664.
View Gazette article online at

Share |