I’d like to put up a bird feeder this winter, but don’t want face a slew of weeds from the seed next spring. Any suggestions?
Dean Marshall, Baltimore, MD
Use seeds birds like to eat for less spillage. A thick ground cover will keep any seeds that do make it to the ground from sprouting.
Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Blume
Scott Aker, intergrated pest management specialist at the U.S. National Arboretum, replies: Most of the seeds in birdseed mixtures need light to germinate. If your feeder is placed in a lawn with healthy, dense turf, or in a bed of ground-cover plants, few of the seeds will be able to germinate. If the feeder is in an area where vegetation does not completely shade the ground, a thick layer of mulch will do a good job in preventing seed germination.
Replenish the mulch regularly to prevent seeds from making contact with the soil. Some seeds may germinate in the mulch, but they can be pulled easily. As a last resort, you may wish to use a pre-emergent herbicide in early spring to kill weed seedlings. Be sure to read and follow the directions on the label.
The type of seed used in bird feeders is important as well. Birds show a clear preference for certain kinds of seeds and may scatter other seeds to get to the ones they want. Millet is often the component of seed mixtures that gets scattered the most. Sunflower seeds are preferred by many species of birds like cardinals and chickadees, and using them exclusively may greatly diminish weed problems that result from a mixture. Keep in mind that you’ll attract fewer species of birds when you use a single kind of seed instead of a mixture.
If you’re able to provide a water source near your feeder, the birds will greatly appreciate it. Also, once you start feeding birds, make an effort to keep doing so through the harsh winter months. Birds may become dependent on the supplemental food the feeder provides, especially as their natural food supply of berries and wild seeds diminishes.