Skip to main content

Add these plants to your garden to provide winter food for your local birds

Feed your local birds with these plants

garden plants birds winter songbird with berries
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Plenty of birds fly south for the winter, but not all of them do! If you enjoy hanging up bird feeders to help your feathered friends, but find it unpleasant to trudge out into the snow to refill them, then you should consider growing natural food sources for wildlife! In this handy guide, we’ll cover why this is a good idea, what kinds of plants you should look for, and even list a few of our top recommendations for garden plants for birds in the winter.




1 hour
A songbird in flight swooping in to eat small yellow berries on hanging vines
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why should you grow food for local wildlife?

During winter, the amount of available food for birds, deer, and small mammals declines sharply. This is part of a normal cycle, and there are still plants they can use for food, but human activity has put a wrinkle into it. As urban centers spread and envelop the wilderness, the reliable winter food sources have been reduced even further, making it harder for wildlife to find enough to eat.

Adding a few plants to your yard that are specifically for birds and other animals can help offset this issue, at least in your area. Each plant and animal plays a role in the environment, so replacing some of the missing or destroyed food sources helps promote a healthy and balanced ecosystem. If you're a fan of organic gardening, adding a few wildlife food sources to your yard fits right in with the rest of your eco-friendly lifestyle!

A chipmunk eating red berries
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What kinds of plants are ideal?

The best plants to add to your garden as a food source for wildlife are native plants that produce berries or large seed heads. Berries and seeds are a primary food source for many birds, as well as some small mammals, like mice and squirrels. Planting wildflowers and fruit bushes are great places to start.

If you live in an area that is accessible to deer, you should also include a few bushes or shrubs with heavy foliage, although deer will also eat some berries and fruit. It’s important that the plants be native to your region, both to cut down on care requirements and to avoid spreading an invasive species.

If you're tight on space or looking to feed birds quickly, then it's best to stick to shrubs, bushes, and flowers. However, there are plenty of trees that can be planted to provide even more food! Apple trees and dogwood trees are great options.

Here are a few plants to consider, along with where they’re native to:

  • Holly (Eastern North America)
  • Elderberry (most of North America)
  • Coneflower (Central and Southeastern North America)
  • Juniper (Northern North America)
  • Buffaloberry (Northern and Western North America)
A large blackbird sitting in a frost-covered tree with red berries
manfredrichter / Pixabay

Is there any special care for these plants?

For the most part, you should care for these plants just like you would the rest of your garden. There are a few special considerations you should be aware of, though:

Step 1: Avoid using any sort of pest control on them.

Obviously, if you want the birds to eat the berries, you shouldn’t cover them with a bird net, but avoid using sprays as well. While some sprays may not harm the birds or deer, insects are an important food source for many birds. Since the plants are there to feed the local animals, there’s no harm in leaving them vulnerable to insects.

Step 2: Plant them near the edge of your garden or yard.

This is to avoid encouraging wildlife to come all the way into your garden and possibly eating or trampling plants that you don’t want them to touch. Additionally, since these plants will be left vulnerable to insects, you don’t want them close to your other plants, potentially spreading the pests to them.

Once you’ve picked and planted your plants, you can watch your local wildlife stop by for a snack! If you have any kids, this is a great way to teach them about the native animals of their home. For more advice on what plants to choose, why not visit your local Audubon Society? They’ll be happy to teach you all about the birds you can expect to see in your own backyard.

Cayla Leonard
Cayla Leonard is a writer from North Carolina who is passionate about plants.  She enjoys reading and writing fiction and…
Focus on color: Yellow plants that will bring cheer to your garden
Add sunshine to your landscape with these vibrant plants
Sunflower under blue sky

Yellow plants are gorgeous, especially when they’re bright, perky, and not on the brink of death. Yup — while the color yellow is notoriously an indicator for overwatered, sunburned, or otherwise suffering leaves, many trees, shrubs, and tropical houseplants come with naturally yellow blooms and variegations!

If you’re looking to brighten up your darkest days with a pop of golden foliage and blooms, keep reading ahead for our top yellow plant recommendations.
Winter jasmine

Read more
How to care for mandevilla, a perfect addition to your vertical garden
Learn what to do to add this vibrant plant to your space
A mandevilla plant with one red flower


Mandevilla, also called rocktrumpet, is a beautiful tropical plant native to South America, Central America, and even the southwestern part of North America. This gorgeous flowering vine looks stunning in containers and climbing up walls or trellises. If you have a vertical garden or are planning to start one soon, then mandevilla should absolutely be on your list of plants to consider. You’ll love seeing their vibrant flowers, which come in shades of red, pink, white, and yellow. Excited to start growing your own mandevilla plants? This guide will answer all your questions, from planting to problem-solving!
Planting mandevilla

Read more
9 tasty companion plants for tomatoes in your summer garden
Plant these next to your tomatoes for a thriving harvest
Tomato plant preparing for harvest

When building out your summer garden, you might have tomatoes on your mind. With ample sunlight, well-draining soil, and a sturdy trellis, you’ll be able to start a healthy and delicious crop. Luckily, there’s no shortage of delicious tomato companion plants out there that help repel pests, bring in pollinators, and improve fruit yield. When planning your garden beds and borders around tomatoes, here are the best plants to keep by their side.
1. Borage

Borage, a flowering herb with star-shaped blue flowers, goes well with tomatoes because it helps repel destructive tomato hornworms, which feed on tomato leaves and fruits. It also attracts pollinators thanks to its blossoms. You’ll commonly find tomatoes, borage, and squash planted together because squash shares similar care requirements as tomatoes and benefits from borage's pollinator-attracting properties. What's great about borage is that you can also use it as a garnish on your dishes.
2. Basil

Read more