Growing Lettuce to Attract Birds

Grow lettuce in your garden to attract birds like goldfinches and other backyard birds.

I’ve often wondered why birdseed growers don’t investigate more types of seeds for commercial sale. After all, I see how birds flock to my yard and garden to eat the seeds right off my perennials and annuals.

Sure, nobody wants a feeder mix packed with genuine thistle, dandelion and teasel seeds. But what about, say, lettuce?

Growing lettuce is easy and since it is full of seeds, it’s not a problem if the extras happen to sprout beneath the feeder. It’s also such a powerful temptation to goldfinches that the cheery black-and-yellow fliers once went by the nickname “lettuce birds.”

It’s not salad that the finches are seeking. Although goldfinches may nibble tender young lettuce leaves in spring, the big payoff comes when the plants bolt and go to seed.

That’s when finches come flocking. Even a single stem of lettuce seeds can attract a dozen finches; a larger patch can bring in an unbelievable multitude.

Goldfinch studying reflectionBy planting lettuce in your garden, you will be amazed by the amount of goldfinches that come flocking to your backyard. <span class="credit"> Priscilla (62vette) </span>
By planting lettuce in your garden, you will be amazed by the amount of goldfinches that come flocking to your backyard. Priscilla (62vette)

When I counted 200 sunny yellow goldfinches at one time in my first lettuce plantation—which was nothing more than a single 6-foot row in my garden that had gone to seed—I knew I’d have to make the plant a staple to attract goldfinches to my yard.

Most advice about growing lettuce focuses on getting more greens, not more seeds. At the first sign of bolting, which usually happens when summer heats up, we yank out the plants, wait until the weather cools and start a new crop.

What a waste! As far as finches are concerned, that flowering stem is the promise of good things to come. Pull out such precious plants? I don’t think so. That’s why I now plant lettuce in my flower beds, where it can live out its natural life among the cosmos, bachelor’s buttons, sunflowers and other self-sowing annuals. Finches love them all.

Now I look at my garden lettuce differently and encourage others to do the same. When my crop begins to bolt in summer heat, I don’t mourn the loss of my salad greens. I think, Oh, boy! Get ready for goldfinches!

Sally Roth
Sally Roth is an award-winning author of more than 20 popular books about gardening, nature, and birds, including the best-selling "Backyard Bird Feeder's Bible" and "Attracting Songbirds to Your Backyard." Sally is also a contributing writer and editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. She shares her love of nature with her husband, Matt Bartmann, who is also a naturalist as well as a photographer and writer.