Goldfinches are one of my favorite birds. They are bright and cheery, even in their more somber winter plumage. They have a lilting song that is easy to recognize. And they are entertaining to watch while eating, as they display an acrobatic sense of balance.
Goldfinches love seeds. So if you want them in your garden, the thing to do is plant perennials offering seeds that goldfinches cannot resist.
Here are three plants that goldfinches love, and that I love for their ornamental qualities. All are native to central North America.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). This is a fantastic all around plant. It blooms for a long period of time, with fuzzy spikes of tiny blue flowers. The edible heart-shaped foliage has a wonderful anise scent, and you can brew it into tea (it was once commonly grown as an herb). Anise Hyssop is also tough and adaptable, thriving in sun or part shade, in moist or dry soil.
Two warnings about Anise Hyssop, though. First, it self-sows with abandon. The seedlings are easy to weed out, however. Second, it may need staking and/or cutting back to keep it from getting too tall (up to 4′) and flopping over. A. foeniculum is a North American native, but there are also Asian species and some popular hybrids.
Brown Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba). Much like Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), but taller and with clouds of smaller golden yellow flowers. This is another plant that will grow under diverse conditions. I’ve found volunteers growing robustly in some unlikely spots, like at the base of my Siberian Elm. Goldfinches will eat the tiny black seeds on the plant, and as the seeds scatter on the ground they will attract buntings, sparrows, and other birds.
But be warned: Brown Eyed Susan self-sows promiscuously. And like Anise Hyssop, it can grow quite tall, up to 5′, but does respond well to cutting back.
Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum). OK, this plant is not for everyone, but I love it. First thing to keep in mind is that it is big. I mean BIG, like 8-10′. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. What is it they say about big plants: architectural, makes a great specimen, etc. Yeah, all of that.
I actually like the size. But there are so many great things about Cup Plant. The sunflower-like yellow flowers start in July and last all summer. And the leaves are big and dramatic, almost tropical.
What’s more, goldfinches LOVE the seeds. Plus, the leaves are perfoliate. That means pierced by the stem, so they form little cups that fill with rain water. Birds and butterflies drink from the cups.
A couple of warnings. First, not surprisingly, you will probably have to stake this guy. Last year I started using 10′ lengths of rebar, stuck a couple of feet into the ground. Second, be vigilant about pulling volunteers, or you will end up living in a Magical Forest of Cup Plant. Sounds kind of nice, actually, but not necessarily what you want for your garden.
I should mention that Goldfinches also love the seeds of Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpureum) and other Echinaceas. However, these have become so susceptible to aster yellows disease in my garden that I sadly no longer count them as a personal favorite.
Are you a fan of Goldfinches? What plants do they love in your garden?