Garden Dilemma: Under the Bird Feeders



Help!  I’m loving having bird feeders and a bird bath at the edge of my patio, but not loving the seeds sprouting like crazy and causing much weeding to be done.

Also, I have to sweep the patio almost daily.

To the bird-feeders among you, what do you suggest?


It’s not every day that a gardener publishes photos of their garden’s worst spots, but I know Rant readers will make it worth outing myself as a gardener with a dilemma.

Oh, about the bird bath.  I’ve been lifting the base and pouring it out onto the patio every day to give it clean water and today I dropped it.  So long to my $60 bath (on sale), just a few months old.


  1. I have the birdfeeders in a mounded area with salvia, heliopsis, and coneflowers, so the sunflowers that do sprout fit in pretty well. Then in Fall and Winter the birds eat the sunflowers that have grown up along with the feed I give them. Also the mound makes the pile of growing shells seem not quite so out of place. Every few weeks I quickly go through with a hoe and knock down some of the sprouting sunflowers otherwise there would be too many of them. My advice is to put bird feeders someplace where you don’t mind a few volunteers sprouting up.

  2. As Christina mentioned buying a good seed blend is a great start. Most of the mixes you get from grocery or box stores have filler seed, like milo and millet, in them. The birds don’t like the filler seed so they dump it on the ground while they are searching for the seed they like. Another help is the type of feeder you have. Platform type feeders make less of a mess because they are wider but they don’t look as nice. They also make seed catchers or saucers that you can hang under the feeder. For ours we use and old trashcan lid turned upside down with a hole in the middle for the pole to go through. As far as the seeds sprouting just sterilize the seeds. Place a gallon of seed in a paper bag and cook for 5 minutes in microwave on high. Or you can cook them for 30 minutes on a baking sheet in the oven at 300 degrees. The birds will still get nutrition from the seeds and will still eat them but they won’t sprout if they fall to the ground.

  3. Also, keep in mind that sunflower hulls can have an allelopathic effect on some other plants.

  4. I was going to suggest underplanting too, or the (expensive) “patio” mixes that don’t contain hulls.

    Sorry to hear about the birdbath! I’ve used large ceramic saucers for this before — may not be an exact match, but should work fine and cost much less than $60!

  5. If you have all / most of the pieces from the birdbath, a $5 investment at the hardware store in some epoxy will put it all back together and the birds won’t mind the repairs at all.

  6. A friend ringed her bird feeder poles with dwarf burfordii hollies. They are dense shrubs and although the seeds fell through, there was no sunlight under them so the seeds never sprouted she never had any weeds.

    At my home the “filler” millet is very welcome, it is the favorite food for Painted Buntings and the more of them the merrier,

  7. HI, Susan. You know I like the birds. I probably have 15 feeders in the yard. The alleopathic effect is a big concern, as mentioned, but the ground feeding birds pretty much kill off any plants underneath anyway. That’s actually good. It’s easier to sweep the ground. Mold is a danger to the birds, so sweeping is a must.

    Tray feeders are good because the songbirds will often grab a seed and fly to a branch so it falls away from the feeder. However, you will attract starlings and grackles. I do utilize tubes and trays.

    The seed catchers are effective, but they can attract the big birds:

    Finally, I would recommend sunflower chips. They are very expensive. But, the price is actually pretty close when one compares sunflower chips to the edible portion of the entire sunflower seed. (BTW, I buy so much I get it wholesale and can get you some. It is the best food to buy.)

    I also recommend a high quality feeder that comes apart easily. Finch eye disease from feeders is a serious concern. (I can recommend some feeders.)

    The birds needour help because of habitat loss. So, keep feeding!


  8. I encourage my customers to only feed the birds in the winter months when there is a limited food supply. Taking away the feeders during the growing season will hopefully force the birds to hunt for the insects and worms that are in the garden. Swap the feeder for a bird bath. If you want to continue feeding them, move the feeder out into the yard where you can mow what sprouts. Also as others have mentioned, choose a feed that has less filler.

    • Hi,
      I’d have to disagree with you on this one. Fall and winter are often times when there is an abundance of seed and fruit. Migrators and nesting birds need the fuel in Spring. Many birds nest in summer, too and will feed their young from the feeders. Also, most species that come to feeders are not primarily insectivores. They possess seed and nut crushing beaks.

      I feed all year.

  9. Hi Susan! Use just the black hulled sunflower seeds with or without shells, everyone eats them. The shells can act as a thick mulch keeping the seedling down and I underplant with grasses where the sunflowers fit in or just leave a circle around the feeder. I also use suet & suet pellets. Most of the birds like that as well and there is no mess. As for water, I’ve started buying the biggest flower pot saucers and just placing them on the ground. I just blast them clean w/ the hose 🙂

  10. We have bushes and plants to feed the birds, but because we have a cat we don’t use bird feeders so have no advice. As for the birdbath – instead of lifting the bath and dumping it, I flood it with water from the hose or a watering can. I am beyond lifting awkward heavy things these days.

  11. As another reader suggested, I would move the feeder slightly so any seed that rains down is falling on grass, and not into your garden. We had ours in the garden, and not only were sunflowers sprouting up all over — leading to my husband’s current serious and infuriating sunflower addiction — but the cats were delighted to hide among the perennials and catch a few birds! Now, the feeder and bird bath are in the grass, and any sunflowers that sprout can be mowed. Or, if you are my husband, allowed to grow IN THE LAWN and flagged with sticks/stakes so that they are not “accidentally” pulled. Grrr..

  12. Ouch! I’m sorry you broke your birthbath! I’m surprised you managed to pick the thing up too! There are much simpler ways to fill and clean a birdbath!

    I too love to feed the birds in my backyard. I have a roughly 6ft. square wooden post sunk in the ground-in the back of my backyard; and have an octagonal feeder tray hanging from an ornate planter hook that extends out from the post. Sure I get a lot of seeds dropping and sprouting around the post; but I dug out a wide circle around the post as a ‘natural’ bed. I just let the seeds sprout up as they are wont. It hurts nothing. Consider it part of the backyard wildlife habitat. Its all in the changing of one’s perspective.

    I also have a concrete birdbath on a pedestal a bit further from the feeder. It will get algae growing occasionally, so I take my garden hose and a good scrubber to it.
    What I do is use the jet spray setting on the hose to jet out the existing water; or I’ll simply use my hand to scoop the water out; then jet spray out some of the gunk. Then I scrub the birdbath and jet spray till it is clean enough. I just change settings on the hose to refill the bath with clean water.
    Occasionally, I need to refill the bath, so I just drag my hose over to refill. I never try to pick it up. Just use a good jet spray on your hose!

  13. I hope you did not throw away your bird bath. If the bowl can be used to plant succulants in them and bury the part broke. the stand if still usable can be used in a corner and just put a colored ceramic planter saucer on top or like I did with my base, glued an sun dial on top. I have feeders all over. One bed is close to patio and I have learned to live with the mess and it makes great compost for the soil and worms. Rest of my beds with feeders are hidden behind my hydranga (sp) and a person would have to walk to the back to see it. From the front of the yard and house you do not see the mess. Another bed with a feeder I have a mix of perenials (sp) and hosta and so it goes on the ground but is covered. Then around some of the fences I have plant hooks and small feeders on them, so it just goes behind my beds and a you do not see it. I have a registered wildlife habitat in my yard. Our neighbors informed us they are going to see their mom’s home. We have enjoyed 30 yrs. looking out at a cow pasture and no homes but hers on 4 acres. So I am enjoying all the wildlife I can our town and state is becoming bare and woods are going to be found in a dictionary 🙂

  14. I spring for ‘no mess mix’ from the local Wild Birds Unlimited store. It’s more expensive than el cheapo birdseed mixes from the hardware store, but has 100% seed birds like, plus wee suet balls & dried fruit. I mix it with sunflower chips, so no waste.

    Straight hulled sunflower seed or chips goes down well with most birds, so the hull effect is nil.

    Or — get some chickens! They will happily eat the seeds spilled onto the ground, and eat the plants growing.

    My biggest issue is the new extra smart ^%$#@ squirrel that has figured out how to knock down every single one of my bird feeders (except the heavy, squirrel-proof on) including my hanging suet feeders. After cleaning up several remnants of suet blocks, I took my revenge. I bought a suet block with hot pepper oil already in it, and put it in a hanging feeder, then stood back to watch. Hahahaha (she laughed evilly) as the squirrel leaned over the eaves and took a nibble……… and immediately jumped back up and ran off. hahahahahahaha.

    Now if only I could scare off the deer so easily.

  15. Well, you could always move the feeder just far enough off the patio that the hulls don’t make a mess on it. And run a rake over the hulls now & then to keep the sprouts from taking root. My feeders are stationed such that any dropped hulls become mulch. Yes, it does keep plants from growing beneath the feeder, but I want that anyway.

    The more expensive seed mixes are good, too. My experience – no bird in this region will eat millet. It’ll end up all over the ground/patio. My Mom (in a completely different region) found the same.

  16. The seed catchers will work, but really the only thing that works well is using a high-quality seed (as stated above) and cleaning the area around the bird feeder daily is important, because you could attract raccoons, etc if you don’t.

    Good luck! Looking forward to the updated pictures!

  17. I have used a bird bath I got approximately 15 years ago from Wild Birds Unlimited. The bowl is plastic and sits in a metal holder. That is some very durable plastic and is lightweight to empty and clean. I only buy the no waste birdseed, it is so worth it. Safflower seed will not sprout either.

  18. We don’t have any problem with sprouting sunflower seeds because whenever a seed falls from the feeder, it lands in a chipmunk’s mouth. Problem solved.

  19. I read in Garden Gate that some people microwave birdfeed before putting it out, which cooks it slightly so it won’t germinate. I don’t know what health effects it has on birds, though.

  20. Susan, after years of clean-up & hoeing, I found a perfect solution for ud. Writes place our feeders in the middle of a patch of lawn. In early spring, mowing removes all seedlings & a quick handful of compost over the area (sorseems to make the grass happy to grow through the seed hulls thickly. We change the sitting for the feeders every 3or 4 years & it has worked very well for us for us15 years of now!! (Sorry about the idiotic autocorrect, which obviously isn’t).

Comments are closed.