How to grow Thistle flowers. It is also considered Thistle weed plants growing in fields. Cardinals love the seeds. The Gardener's Network. Can Birdseed Start Weeds in Your Yard?. If you’re inviting flocks of birds to visit your yard by enticing them with birdseed, you may also be inviting weeds. When seed falls from the feeder to the ground there is potential for germination. This is not a problem with all types of bird food. By being a conscientious … 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 – – 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.
Can Birdseed Start Weeds in Your Yard?
Many of the plants that grow from birdseed can be classified as weeds. In fact, Oregon State University warns that birdseed is known for creating weed infestations. Most commercial seed mixes contain only a small percentage of seed that birds find desirable, with the rest being filler seed species, such as red millet and sorghum, that end up on the ground and grow into weeds.
It is easy to identify plants from birdseed by their seedy heads, which self-sow prolifically if left to grow. Fortunately, there are several strategies to prevent the mess while still attracting seasonal and year-round birds to the garden.
Birdseed can start a variety of different weeds in the garden, so it is best to use a low-mess or no-waste birdseed.
Use No-Waste Birdseed
One of the most straightforward solutions for curbing weed growth from birdseed is to purchase no-waste birdseed. Birdseed makes a weedy mess when it is scattered on the ground in part because the seed is minimally processed and still able to germinate. No-waste birdseed comes pre-hulled so that it can’t germinate if it lands on the ground. Sometimes called ‘low-waste’ or ‘mess-free’ birdseed, this variety is more expensive than many other birdseed blends, but it will prevent weeds while keeping wild birds fed.
Another option is creating a homemade blend of birdseed that contains only the seed types that are most desirable to birds, which will help ensure that the birds eat them all rather than scattering them on the ground. The University of New Hampshire Extension recommends creating a birdseed mix with 50 percent sunflower seeds, 35 percent proso white millet and 15 percent cracked corn. This mix will attract a variety of birds to a feeder, particularly if you locate the seed in different feeders around the garden.
Choose the Right Feeder
Choosing the right feeder can help eliminate the seed waste that causes weed infestation by providing a more efficient feeding experience catered to the species of bird. Different types of birds respond to different types of feeders. Tube feeders will attract small birds that like to hang upside down while foraging, such as chickadees and goldfinches, while hopper-style feeders work best for larger birds, such as grosbeaks and cardinals, according to the University of Florida IFAS Extension. Platform feeders work well for a variety of birds depending on whether they are hung high in a tree or placed near the ground.
Positioning a bird feeder wisely will also help prevent a weedy birdseed mess. Oregon State University recommends positioning a tray beneath the bird feeder to catch any spillage. Placing the feeder over a concrete patio or driveway where seeds can’t germinate also helps prevent a weed infestation. Be sure to sweep up any seeds that do spill on the ground immediately after you notice them.
Create Bird-Friendly Landscaping
A well-stocked bird feeder is one way of attracting birds to the garden, but a more sustainable and less messy alternative is to plant landscaping that provides habitat and food for birds instead. The University of Missouri Extension recommends studying the habitat needs of the types of birds you hope to attract. For instance, birds such as the goldfinch prefer to eat and linger in shrubby landscapes, while meadowlarks prefer open, meadowlike spaces. American robins like tall trees and open fields, so the typical yard with a shade tree will appeal to them.
The right environment will attract birds, but planting flowers, shrubs and trees that provide a source of food will encourage them to linger. Cornflowers (Echinacea purpurea, zones 3a-8a) will provide food with their seed heads during the winter months, as will the ox-eye sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), which grows perennially within U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3a to 9a, according to the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension. Trees such as the persimmon (Diospyros virginiana, zones 4a-9a) and coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus, zones 2-7) both provide food for birds in winter with their fruit and nuts.
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!