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8 Easy Ways to Landscape Under 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. I'll also explain each recommendation in detail further down in this article.

  1. Buy a no-mess blend of birdseed.
  2. Use a seed tray.
  3. Prepare to experiment with different plants.
  4. Consider a wildflower garden.
  5. Consider low-growing shrubs.
  6. Install a little concrete 'patio.'
  7. Use pavers or flagstones.
  8. Consider leaving the spot bare.

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.

Seed catcher tray and squirrel baffle.

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.

Daylilies don't mind the sunflower seed hulls.

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.

What 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)
  • Daylilies
  • 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.

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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.

Wildflowers provide lots of seeds for overwintering birds.

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.

Holly shrubs are good for planting near bird feeders.

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.)

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.

How to Keep Ground Under Bird Feeders Clean

Use a leaf vacuum or rake to get rid of all the old seed hulls regularly. 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.

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?

Deborah T Christiansen on May 04, 2020:

I let the sunflowers grow under the feeder and then harvest the seeds for the birds.

Tim on March 23, 2020:

Does the oil from the seeds itself, have a negative impact on the growing capability of the soil?

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.

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.

How To Keep Bird Seed From Sprouting

Birds love the food we put out for them, and most bird watchers will enjoy watching the use the feeders which are out for them. Birds really love nuts and seeds but the downside to putting these out is that spilled seed can sprout and start growing where we don’t want it to.

Having to weed out shoots you don’t want does take away some of the enjoyment of putting the food out in the first place. There are a few things you can do to stop your bird seed from landing on the grass and sprouting.

How To Protect Your Garden From Bird Seed

There’s no way to stop birds from dropping seeds. As they feed, seeds will fall out of the feeder and the birds will simply carry on feeding.

Here are a few ways you can limit how much seeds lands on your garden.

Check The Feeder

  • If you’re using a platform feeder, you may find it’s not as secure as you thought, or it may be at an angle. If the feeder isn’t flat, seed could easily fall when the birds land on it.
  • Ideally your feeder needs a raised edge as this can help prevent seeds from being blown off the table if it’s windy.
  • You should also make sure you do not put too much seed on or in your feeder. If it overflows, the seed will soon pile up on the ground.

Seed Catcher

One simple way to stop the seed from falling to the ground is to fit a seed catcher. You can buy seed catchers for most types of feeder or you could make your own. All you need is something that fits below the feeder ready to catch anything that falls off it.

Divide Up The Garden

For most people the problem with bird seed sprouting is that it gets in to the grass and spoils the lawn.

One great way to protect the lawn is to have a separate area for feeding birds. This can be set up with patio slabs or decking placed around the area where your feeders will be. This means the seeds will not sprout and it makes it easy for you to sweep them up to deter unwanted visitors to your garden.

Check Your Seed

When you put food out, you want to make sure there is as little waste, so you need to find a way to make sure that the birds eat as much as possible.

  • While birds may not be the tidiest of eaters, they may be trying to tell you something if you look closely at the seeds on the ground. If you notice that most of the discarded seeds are the same type, it may simply be that the birds don’t like them. They can’t tell you this, so they do the next best thing and throw them away to get to the seeds they like. If you spot this, try using a different seed mix which does not have those seeds in.
  • Some companies offer ‘no waste’ bird seed. Some seeds such as sunflower seeds have an outer layer which the birds chip away to get to the seed inside. This hull is then discarded on the ground. ‘No waste’ seed mixes have seeds which have already been hulled so the birds will eat everything with a lot less mess. Be careful when purchasing ‘no waste’ bird seed as some companies add chemicals to the mix to stop them from sprouting, and this can damage both the seeds and the birds.
  • Suet mixes are also a good way to stop seeds falling on the ground. The suet holds the seeds together and the birds love the taste of suet so they’ll eat all that as well.

You can also try using seeds which will not germinate if they fall on the ground. Some examples of these are black oil sunflower chips or nyjer seeds.

Take a look at the YouTube video below for some additional tips to stop bird seed from sprouting!

Sterilize The Seed

Some experts don’t recommend this as they say it spoils the nutritional benefits of the seeds, but there is no evidence which actually suggests this.

Sterilizing the seeds simply means they will not germinate and the easiest way to do this is to heat them.

  • Oven: in an oven, place the seed on a baking sheet and cook or 30 minutes at 300 degrees.
  • Microwave: Place the seed in a paper bag and microwave for 5 minutes on high.

Always leave the seeds to cool properly before placing in your feeder.

It’s not always easy to clean up discarded seeds every day, but try to keep the area around your feeders as clean and tidy as possible. This not only prevents them from sprouting, but stops them going moldy and will prevent creatures you don’t want in your yard from coming to feed.

  • If you leave the feeder empty for a day, the birds may find the seeds on the ground and dispose of them for you.
  • Raking the grass can help but if the seeds are small then an outdoor vacuum may be better.

Once you know you won’t have to deal with sprouting seeds, you can sit back and relax, enjoying the birds as they visit your garden.

James Morgan

Birds are fantastic creatures, with such a great presence in every culture around the globe, and are one of the crucial elements of the equilibrium of all land-based ecosystems. They are an inspiration, and a living treasure of our planet.

How do I keep grass from growing under my bird feeder?

One may also ask, how do you keep bird seed off the ground? Use tray feeders to keep foods from falling to the ground. The Dinner Bell™ feeder has a built-in tray and a protective, adjustable roof. You can offer any blend or straight seed from the Dinner Bell as well as cylinder and stackable foods. Use trays under feeders to keep debris from falling to the ground.

what is growing under my bird feeder?

For example, if you are feeding finches Thistle seed, then the plants that grow under your bird feeder will be Thistles. These are weeds that farmers do not want growing in their fields. Milo also grows into a plant that looks like a grass, but is actually a type of sorghum grown specifically for its grain.

Does bird seed kill grass?

Q: My husband loves birds and bird feeders. Unfortunately, the grass under them dies due to the broken seeds that fall. Sunflower seed hulls contain a toxin that inhibits growth in some plants, so the sunflower hulls that fall under the feeder can affect plants growing there.