Tips on how to keep bird seed from sprouting. Good vs Bad: Nyjer vs Thistle I often hear people tell me that, while they love goldfinches, they don’t want a yard full of thistle weeds, so they refuse to purchase nyjer. Nyjer (also spelled How to grow Thistle flowers. It is also considered Thistle weed plants growing in fields. Cardinals love the seeds. The Gardener's Network.
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Monday, July 6, 2020
14 Tips to keep bird seed from sprouting in your lawn
It is inevitable that uneaten seeds will spill out of your bird feeders. The birds themselves may knock some of it out in all of their activity. This uneaten seed will germinate and sprout in your lawn under your feeders. How do you keep sprouting bird seed under control?
You can keep bird seed from sprouting by changing your seeds, changing your feeder, and changing your landscaping using the 14 tips that follow.
First, let’s find out a bit about the seeds in the birdseed! What is it?
Almost all bird seed will sprout. If an unwanted plant is defined as a weed, then bird seed that sprouts is a weed. Some sprouting bird seed may look like grass at first. But bird seeds grow into whatever seed you are feeding: sunflowers, millet, wheat, milo, flax, rapeseed, canary seed. How do you keep bird seed from growing under your feeder?
Change your seeds
Sterilized seeds are heated so that they die. If they fall on the ground they will not germinate and sprout.
Tip 1) Feed Niger seed (thistle)
Niger is not really thistle. This plant seed is also sold under the trademark name Nyjer. It does not germinate and sprout in your lawn–for one very good reason.
In 2001 the USDA required imported Niger seed for birds to be sterilized for 15 minutes at 120˚ C (248˚ F). This sterilizes the seeds.
Since it is sterilized it will not sprout under your bird feeder. This is a favorite food of small finches such as goldfinches, siskins, and house finches.
Tip 2) Sterilize your own seeds
The Niger seed is the only bird seed you are likely to find that has been sterilized. But you can sterilize your own bird seed the very same way. Baking bird seed will stop it from sprouting.
Spread bird seed on a flat baking sheet that has a lip all the way around. Preheat your conventional oven to 250˚ F. Place the baking sheet with bird seed in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
Alternatively, I have seed directions to place 5 pounds of bird seed into a paper sack and cook in the microwave on High for 5 minutes. I have also heard some people have accidentally burned their bird seed this way. So try it for lesser amounts of time. Then put it in wet conditions (e.g., damp paper towel in bottom of a glass) for 7 days and see if it sprouts or not.
This sounds like way too much work, though. How about some other ideas?
Feed only seeds that birds like
Just like you, birds have a preference of foods they like. They get up on the feeder and scratch through the mixed seeds, searching for their favorite food.
Many types of mixed bird seed contains filler: cheap seeds that most birds don’t like. Birds toss aside the undesirable seed, often on the ground. This discarded bird seed is likely to sprout.
Tip 3) Feed one type of bird seed in separate feeders
Feeding one type of seed in each feeder will result in birds only visiting the feeder with their favorite foods. They’ll eat this seed, not throw it away. Thus, less bird seed will fall on the ground to sprout.
This tip doesn’t stop accidental spillage. It stops birds from throwing away seeds they don’t like.
Tip 4) Buy fresh bird seed
Cheap bird seed may be cheap for a reason. It may be stale and old. Birds may toss it aside looking for something fresh. Or they may abandon the feeder altogether. Birds will eat more of the fresh seed and not toss away the old. It is best not to store bird seed from one season to the next. Buy new.
Tip 5) Don’t buy bird seed with milo
Most birds don’t like milo. They throw it out of the feeder. It sprouts.
Wheat, rapeseed and canary seed are similar.
Why is milo in bird seed? Chickens like it in chicken scratch. It is very cheap and the bird seed manufacturers already use it. Some bird seed is more than 50% milo. It ends up growing in your lawn.
Wagner’s Songbird Supreme bird seed is my favorite for attracting the most kind of birds to my feeder. If it isn’t available, a close second is Wagner’s Greatest Variety. These are Amazon affiliate links that help support this blog. Thank you.
No mess bird seed
Tip 6) Feed No-mess bird seed
Many mixed seed varieties feature a no-mess or no-waste bird seed. These contain such bird foods as hulled sunflower seeds (seeds without hulls), hulled white proso millet, sunflower chips (hulled and broken), peanut pieces, cracked corn, dried fruits, and nuts (without the shell).
You can purchase a mixed blend containing those seeds and others. You can buy hulled sunflower and other seeds.
Not only will these seeds stop bird seed from sprouting, there will also be no mess from the inedible seed hulls. This is great for patios, lawns, and other areas where you don’t want any mess under the feeder.
Change your feeder
Feeders themselves don’t stop bird seed from sprouting. However, the bird feeder and how it is hung up can change the amount of seed falling to the ground uneaten.
Stabilize bird feeders
Tip 7) Stop your bird feeders from swinging
Some bird seed may spill from your feeder as it sways in the wind. Even birds jumping on and off the feeder may cause it to swing wildly. You may need to shorten the hanger. You may try tying the bottom of the feeder. You may add weight to the bottom of the feeder. It may be that you need to buy a different, perhaps shorter and wider, bird feeder.
Or, perhaps, the bird feeder pole is swaying. In that case, you need a stouter pole or a lighter feeder. A light feeder may swing in the wind easier, though.
Catch those seeds!
Tip 8) Install a seed catcher on the bird feeder pole or hang below your feeder
You can buy seed catcher trays that hang under most styles of bird feeders. Then you can catch both the discarded hulls and any whole seeds that might have fallen from the feeder. It keeps the ground under your bird feeder much cleaner!
Proper feeder for proper seeds
Tip 9) Feed birds black oil sunflower seeds in tube feeders with small feeder ports
Birds such as chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches eat only one sunflower seed at a time. They fly away to a tree branch to hammer it open to eat the kernel inside. Then they return to the feeder. This feeding behavior causes fewer seeds to be spilled.
House finches sit on the feeder and “chew” the seeds, cracking them open and dropping the hulls out of the feeder. Sometimes the birds accidentally pull out extra seeds that drop to the ground. But there is certainly less fallen seed than in hopper and platform feeders, where birds stand in the tray with the seeds.
Tip 10) Feed mixed bird seed in a low platform feeder
Platform feeders are messy. Birds stand in the feeder with the seeds.
Birds that like to eat from platform feeders, like sparrows and towhees, naturally kick the ground with both feet at once in a kind of hop-kick. They do this on the ground to dig up the soil and turn over leaves. They do this in the feeder, too. They can’t help themselves.
A low platform feeder doesn’t stop the amount of bird seeds kicked out. But it does help keep it confined to a smaller area. Then those ground-feeding birds can locate the spilled seeds easier and eat more of it up from the ground.
Change your landscaping
Make the ground under your feeder easier to clean
The inedible hulls of the sunflower seeds that the birds “spit out” have a natural chemical that keeps most other plant seeds from germinating. Thus, the ground under your feeder is often bare of grass.
Tip 11) Add pavers or flagstones under your feeders
Since the ground under your feeders may be a mess anyway, add pavers. A square of 9 or 16 pavers set close together will be easy to sweep up. Seeds that fall in the cracks and sprout are easy to pull up.
Tip 12) Clean up spilled seed before it sprouts
Regularly rake or sweep up the hulls and spilled seeds before they germinate. You may wish to invest in an outdoor backpack vacuum/blower. You need one anyway, for those fall leaves, right?
Accept the mess!
Tip 13) Move your feeders to the edge of your lawn where it doesn’t matter
Perhaps there’s an area at the edge of your lawn that you can let go to dirt. This can be under some evergreen bushes. It could be at the edge of a “wild” area.
Tip 14) Create a flower garden under your feeder
Remember I said that sunflower hulls prevent some other plants from growing? Some. Not all.
Plant flowers under your bird feeder and let them grow wild! Wild geraniums, day lilies, clematis, lupines, dahlias, mint, cotoneaster, lemon balm, purple coneflowers. Get the idea? A few stray bird seed sprouts won’t even be noticed!
Good vs Bad: Nyjer vs Thistle
I often hear people tell me that, while they love goldfinches, they don’t want a yard full of thistle weeds, so they refuse to purchase nyjer. Nyjer (also spelled Nyger or Niger) is often mistakenly called Thistle, but there is a difference between the two!
Years ago, when I first started feeding wild birds, I purchased my seed in inexpensive bags (from a big box store, sad to say) that would “attract a variety of colorful birds”. I heard that goldfinches liked thistle, so I returned to the discount store and picked up the least expensive bag of thistle I could find. I spent the next decade trying to rid my lawn of thistle plants and was only able to successfully have a thistle-free lawn by moving to a new neighborhood. I know now that I can feel confident that feeding true Nyjer will not prevent me from enjoying a barefoot summer in my backyard.
Nyjer is an oilseed that is high in protein, fiber, and fat. This makes it highly desirable for feeding birds in the winter. Goldfinches aren’t the only birds that flock to feeders filled with Nyjer. If you make the smart decision and choose to feed nyjer, you can also expect to get sparrows, pine siskins, house finches, redpoll, and purple finches at your bird feeder.
Nyjer was trademarked by the Wild Bird Feeding Agency. Nyjer is native to Ethiopia and does not grow in North America. This seed is commonly harvested in Africa, India, Indonesia, and other parts of Southeast Asia. It is an expensive seed since it must be picked by hand, sterilized by intense heat to prevent germination, and then imported.
Thistle, on the other hand, is a noxious weed. Birds love it since, like Nyjer, thistle seed has high protein and fat content. However, the prickly leaves, stems, and spiny areas beneath the flower, make it highly undesirable in residential lawns.
So how, then, do you tell the difference between the two? By looking at the seeds? In actuality, most people cannot tell the difference by visually observing the seeds. In order to be sure that your seeds are Nyjer and not thistle:
- Avoid cheap seed – it is probably either thistle or expired
at a reputable feed store, such as Cockatoo Creations, rather than a big box discount store
- Avoid discount seed mixes
- Read the label to ensure that the origin of the seeds is listed. Most goldfinch food purchased at the local feed store comes from Myanmar (formerly Burma), Singapore, or Ethiopia.
Nyjer spoils quickly, so you should only purchase a small quantity at a time.
Now that you’ve re-thought feeding Nyjer, you’re probably ready to give it a try in one of our tube feeders. I look forward to seeing pictures of the beautiful birds you are able to attract as a result!
How to Grow Thistle Flowers – – or Thistle Weeds
Thistle plants are a wildflower. Thistle is an invasive weed. Depending upon who you talk to, they are either interested in growing thistle flowers to feed the backyard birds, or trying to get them out of the lawn or backfield. There are hundreds of varieties, many of which, are invasive. They quickly spread through pastures. Cows will not graze near them. Others are grown by gardeners for their flowers. Many of these gardeners, also grow thistle to attract finches to their yards. Goldfinches just love the seeds.
Here are some comments we’ve heard about this plant:
- “Thistle is a flower, which gardeners enjoy growing.”
- “To me, these plants are nothing more than an invasive weed, and not easy to control.”
- “Thistle plants are great to have around the yard to attract goldfinches.”
- “I love Milk Thistle. Its milky sap serves my medical ailment.”
Boy, if you were a thistle plant, you’d probably have a personality complex, suffering from multiple personalities. There is indeed a love-hate relationship….. either you love it, or you hate this plant.
Milk Thistle has medicinal applications and has been in use since the Roman Empire. Most notably, it has been used to treat liver ailments. It has also been used to treat kidney and spleen problems.
What Birds like Thistle Seeds? All kinds of finches, most notably, goldfinches, like the seeds. Mourning Doves, and Juncos, a type of Sparrow, also like thistle. The seeds have lots of fats, nutrients, and protein. They are great for your winter bird feeder.
Did You Know? Artichokes are a member of the Thistle family.
Flowers Bloom: Summer
Flower Colors: Most flowers are Purple. However, there are varieties that produce varying shades of blue, pink, purple, and yellow.