Plants That Attract Northern Cardinals: Cardinal Gardens




Plants That Attract Northern Cardinals

Affiliate Disclaimer

This blog is reader-supported. When you make a purchase or take any action through links on this site, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your support helps me continue providing valuable content to enhance your experience. Thank you!

The Northern Cardinal, with its radiant feathers and melodic calls, is a prized guest in many backyards. But what plants lure this magnificent bird closer to our homes?

Creating a cardinal-friendly garden is not only about beauty—it’s about forging a space where nature’s rhythm thrives.

Dive into a botanical guide crafted to bring the allure of the Northern Cardinal right to your doorstep.

Northern Cardinals are drawn to plants that provide food, shelter, and nesting materials. Sunflower and safflower plants offer seeds that cardinals favor. Additionally, fruit-bearing shrubs like dogwood, serviceberry, and mulberry entice them with their berries. Dense shrubs and evergreens like Eastern red cedar and spruce provide shelter and nesting sites, while tall grasses offer nesting materials. Incorporating these plants in your garden will likely attract and support these vibrant red birds year-round.

Quick Summary

Plant TypeNameDescriptionReason Cardinals Are Attracted
TreesDogwoodA medium-sized tree that produces red berries in the fall.Berries are a food source during colder months.
Eastern Red CedarEvergreen tree with bluish fruits.Provides shelter and berries for food.
ShrubsServiceberryA shrub or small tree producing edible berries in the summer.Cardinals eat the berries and seek shelter.
SumacA shrub with dense clusters of fuzzy red berries throughout the winter.Berries serve as a winter food source.
VinesVirginia CreeperA climbing vine with small berries.The berries are a food source.
Flowering PlantsSunflowersLarge, yellow flowers that produce edible seeds.Cardinals love sunflower seeds.
ConeflowersTall plants with large, daisy-like flowers that produce seeds in their center.Seeds are a favorite food of cardinals.
GrassesSwitchgrassA native prairie grass that produces seeds.Seeds provide food, and the grass offers shelter.

Plants That Attract Cardinals

Flowers that Attract Cardinals

FlowerDescriptionBenefits to Cardinals
SunflowerA tall plant with large, bright yellow flowers.Provides seeds that cardinals love to eat.
ConeflowerAlso known as Echinacea; it has a tall stem with a large, daisy-like flower head, usually purple or pink.Seeds are a favorite among many birds, including cardinals.
Black-eyed SusanBright yellow petals surrounding a dark, central cone.Produces seeds that are a food source for cardinals.
AsterSmall, daisy-like flowers that come in a variety of colors, but often seen in purple.Provides seeds in the late season.
GoldenrodBright yellow flowers that grow in clusters. They bloom in late summer to fall.Attracts insects which cardinals sometimes feed on and also produces seeds.
SedumSucculent plants that have clusters of tiny flowers. Varieties like Autumn Joy are particularly attractive.Late-season blooms provide seeds.
ZinniaBrightly colored flowers that can range from pink and red to yellow and orange.They produce seeds that cardinals will feed on.
CoreopsisOften golden-yellow, daisy-like flowers.Seeds are an additional food source for cardinals.

By planting a combination of these flowers, not only will your garden be colorful and vibrant, but it will also attract Northern Cardinals and other birds that appreciate these plants for their seeds and the insects they attract.

Seed-Bearing Plants for Cardinals

PlantDescriptionWhy It’s Good for Cardinals
Sunflower (Helianthus)Large, bright flowers that produce abundant seeds.Sunflower seeds are a favorite of cardinals due to their size and nutritional value.
MilletGrasses that produce small, round seeds on tall spikes.Millet seeds are a natural food source in the wild for cardinals.
SafflowerThorny plants with bright yellow or orange flowers that turn into seed-filled pods.Cardinals love safflower seeds, and many squirrel species don’t, making it an excellent choice for bird feeders.
CornWell-known cereal plant that produces kernels on large ears.Crushed corn or corn kernels are readily eaten by cardinals.
Goldenrod (Solidago)Plants with bright yellow flowers that grow in clusters.Beyond attracting insects, the seeds of the goldenrod are also consumed by cardinals.
Coneflower (Echinacea)Plants with large, daisy-like flower heads, usually purple or pink.The seeds in the cone of the flower are eaten by many birds, including cardinals.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)Bright yellow petals with a dark, central cone.The seeds of this plant are a favorite of many birds.
SorghumCereal grain with tall stalks that produce grain heads similar to millet.The seeds are another natural food source for cardinals.
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)Tall perennial grass native to North America.Produces seeds in the late season, providing a winter food source for cardinals.
AmaranthAncient grain with a bushy structure and usually red or purple flowers.Produces tiny seeds which are readily eaten by cardinals.

Plants for Nesting Materials for Cardinals

When aiming to create a habitat that supports cardinals’ nesting needs, a diverse selection of these plants can make a garden or landscape more appealing to these birds. Offering them plenty of choices for their nesting material and sites enhances their chances of successful summer breeding season and rearing of young.

Plant/MaterialDescriptionWhy It’s Good for Cardinals’ Nests
ClematisA climbing vine with white, pink, or purple flowers.Provides strong support for nests and offers shelter with its dense growth.
ForsythiaA shrub with bright yellow flowers in early spring.The dense branching structure offers support and concealment for nests.
Thicket-forming shrubsShrubs that grow densely, like hawthorns or privets.Offer protection and concealment from predators and harsh weather.
Honeysuckle (Lonicera)Vining or bushy plants with tubular flowers.Dense foliage provides cover, and their vining nature offers support.
GrapevinesWoody vines that produce grapes.Strong vines offer structural support for nests.
Dogwood (Cornus)Trees or shrubs with distinctive flowers and colorful stems.Branches and twigs are often used in nest construction.
Evergreen treesTrees that retain their leaves year-round, like pines, spruces, or firs.Provide consistent cover and protection throughout the year.
Cedar treesEvergreen coniferous trees with aromatic wood.Offer shelter and good nesting sites.
MossesNon-vascular plants that grow in damp or shaded locations.Sometimes used to line nests for added comfort and insulation.
Grasses and plant stemsMany types of grasses and slender-stemmed plants, both tall and short varieties.Used for nest construction, especially the outer layers.
Fine twigs and small branchesTwigs from a variety of trees and shrubs.Serve as primary materials for constructing the nest’s foundation.

Do’s and Dont’s of Planting To Attract Cardinals to your Backyard


  • Diverse Selection: Plant a mix of trees (include a few hawthorn trees), shrubs, and flowering plants that bear seeds or fruits to offer a varied diet.
  • Provide Shelter: Ensure your garden has dense shrubs or thickets where cardinals can nest and seek refuge from predators, if not when considering planting shrubs think of ones which will provide this shelter to encourage cardinals.
  • Year-Round Food: Choose plants that provide food throughout different seasons. For instance, sunflowers for summer and berries for winter, along with any food such as black oil sunflower seeds on your bird feeder.
  • Natural Environment: Maintain a natural and less manicured garden, as it provides more foraging opportunities, remember cardinals are ground feeders and this is the best way of attracting cardinals.
  • Water Source: Add a birdbath or shallow water feature. Cardinals, like all birds, need water for drinking and bathing.
  • Layering: Implement a layered approach by having tall trees, followed by smaller trees, then shrubs, and finally ground cover.
  • Native Plants: Choose plants native to your region. They’re more likely to thrive and are familiar to the local bird species.


  • Avoid Pesticides: Chemicals can harm the birds directly or kill off the insects they might feed on.
  • Sparse Planting: Don’t leave too much open space. Cardinals prefer areas with dense foliage.
  • Neglecting Maintenance: While a natural environment is preferred, don’t neglect to prune or remove dead plants that might become hazardous.
  • Ignoring Seasons: Don’t plant only for a single season. Ensure there’s something beneficial for the cardinals year-round.
  • Isolating Food Sources: Don’t place all food sources in one spot; spread them out to allow multiple birds to feed without competing.
  • Choosing Exotic Plants: Avoid plants that are not native to your area, as they may not be beneficial or could even be harmful to the local wildlife.
  • Missing Nesting Opportunities: Don’t forget to provide potential nesting sites. Cardinals are shy breeders and prefer hidden, secure places.

Creating Shelter for Cardinals

Providing shelter is an essential aspect of creating a cardinal-friendly backyard. Shelter not only offers cardinals a safe place to rest and seek refuge but also encourages them to return to your yard year after year. By understanding the importance of shelter and adopting strategies to provide it, you can create an ideal habitat for cardinals in your backyard.

Importance of Shelter

Shelter plays a vital role in the overall well-being of cardinals. It provides protection from harsh weather conditions, predators, and potential threats. By offering a safe and secure shelter, you can help cardinals feel more comfortable and at ease in your backyard, allowing them to thrive and flourish.

Nesting Shelves as Alternative

While cardinals do not nest in birdhouses, they may use nesting shelves as an alternative. Nesting shelves offer an open design that cardinals find appealing, and they can be placed in areas with adequate cover. These shelves provide cardinals with a platform to build their nests, ensuring they have a suitable place to raise their young.

Open Design for Nesting Shelves

When selecting or creating nesting shelves for cardinals, it’s crucial to choose an open design. Unlike enclosed birdhouses, cardinals prefer nesting shelves with open sides and minimal obstructions. This design allows them to enter and exit easily and provides an unobstructed view of their surroundings, helping them feel safer and more secure while nesting.

Placing Shelves in Covered Areas

To further enhance the suitability of nesting shelves for cardinals, it’s recommended to place them in covered areas. This could be under the eaves of a porch, a covered patio, or in the dense foliage of trees or shrubs. By providing coverage, you create a visually protected area that male cardinals will find more attractive and conducive to nesting.

Maintaining a Suitable Environment

Once you have created a cardinal-friendly backyard, it’s important to maintain a suitable environment to ensure the ongoing presence of these beautiful birds. By providing consistent food and water supply, regular cleaning and maintenance, and monitoring cardinal activities, you can continue to attract and care for cardinals in your yard.

Consistent Food and Water Supply

To keep cardinals coming back, it’s crucial to provide a consistent supply of food and water. Fill bird feeders with cardinal-favorite foods such as sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and cracked corn.

Consider planting native plants that bear fruits, seeds, or nuts as natural food sources for cardinals. Ensure you have a reliable water source, such as a birdbath or shallow fountain, and keep it clean and filled with fresh water.

Regular Cleaning and Maintenance

Regular cleaning and maintenance of feeders, birdbaths, and nesting shelves are essential for the health and well-being of cardinals. Clean feeders and bird baths regularly to prevent the buildup of mold, bacteria, and parasites.

Replace any damaged or worn-out items that may pose a safety risk to cardinals or other wild birds. By keeping your backyard clean and well-maintained, you create a welcoming and safe environment for cardinals to enjoy.

FAQs on What Plants Attract Cardinals

What flower attracts cardinals?

While cardinals are more attracted to plants that provide seeds and berries, flowering plants like sunflowers are a favorite due to their seeds, which cardinals readily consume.

What is the cardinals favorite plant?

Cardinals have a particular fondness for sunflower and safflower plants because of the seeds they produce. Additionally, they are attracted to berry-producing shrubs like dogwood and serviceberry.

What flowers attract red cardinals?

Sunflowers, with their bright petals and nutritious seeds, are among the top flowers that attract red cardinals.

What kind of trees do cardinals nest in?

Cardinals prefer to nest in dense shrubs, thickets, and small trees. They often choose locations in evergreens or deciduous trees like dogwood, hawthorn, and elderberry, which provide good cover.

What can I put out to attract cardinals?

To attract cardinals, put out feeders filled with their favorite seeds such as sunflower and safflower seeds. Additionally, providing a consistent source of fresh water in birdbaths and ensuring dense shrubbery or small trees are available for shelter and nesting will help draw them in.

What habitat do cardinals prefer?

Cardinals prefer habitats with dense thickets, shrublands, forest edges, gardens, and suburban areas with plenty of cover and a consistent food source. They thrive in a variety of environments as long as there’s adequate cover and food availability.

About the author

Latest posts

  • Are Cardinals Territorial

    Are Cardinals Territorial

    Are Cardinals Territorial? Discover the intriguing behavior of cardinals as they fiercely defend their nests, mates, and young. Learn about their response to threats, defensive displays, changes during breeding season, clashes with reflections, tolerance of humans, reaction to nest disturbance, behavior at bird feeders, and fights with other birds.

    Read more

  • Do Bluebirds And Cardinals Get Along

    Do Bluebirds And Cardinals Get Along

    Discover if bluebirds and cardinals can peacefully coexist. Learn about their feeding habits, behaviors, and interactions with other birds. Create a welcoming environment for these stunning species in your yard.

    Read more

  • Northern Cardinal

    Northern Cardinal

    Discover the fascinating world of the Northern Cardinal! From its striking appearance to its beautiful songs, learn about its cultural significance and conservation efforts. Explore tips for attracting these birds to your backyard and stay updated on bird conservation.

    Read more