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Echinacea Sombrero Baja Burgundy, a 2020 All-America Selections winner, continued to produce flowers midsummer to frost during a three-year plant trial. (PHOTO: All-America Selections)

Bring in the birds with these winning plant varieties

Fill your gardens with beautiful plants that produce an abundance of seeds the birds will love. You'll enjoy the flowers as well as the birds that visit to dine on the seeds. Best of all, there is no feeder to refill or clean.

Sunflowers are likely the first seed-producing plant that comes to mind. Their dark brown centers turn to seeds that attract a wide variety of birds and, of course, squirrels to your yard. Add a unique flare to your sunflower collection with the All-America Selections (AAS) winner Sunflower Ring of Fire. Its chocolate brown center is surrounded by a ring of red petals tipped in gold. The four-to five-feet-tall plants reach their peak late in the season, adding a fresh look to any flowerbed.

AAS Winner Purple Majesty Millet is another bird magnet. Tolerant of heat and drought, it grows three to five feet tall, and its green leaves turn purple in the sunlight. Twelve-inch-long flower spikes top the plant, making it the perfect thriller in container gardens, backdrop in flowerbeds or addition to garden bouquets. But you'll want to leave most of the flowers on the plants to produce seeds that bring in the birds.

Another group of AAS Winners, the Salvia Summer Jewel series, bloom earlier and more prolifically than other similar varieties on the market. You can choose from white, pink, red and lavender flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. And as their flowers turn to seeds, you will find colorful goldfinches flocking to the plants.

Coneflowers are well known for their bird appeal. Our native purple and pale purple coneflowers are always a good choice, but a few relatively new hardy varieties increase the color options for gardeners. The 2020 AAS Winner Sombrero Baja Burgundy was trialed for three years, survived brutal winter and summer conditions, and continued to produce deep violet red flowers midsummer to frost.

Cheyenne Spirit Echinacea produces a mix of purple, pink, red and orange flowers while PowWow Wild Berry's compact plants are topped with deep rose-purple flowers. Start these two from seed in early spring and be rewarded with colorful flowers the first summer.

A popular companion of coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, are sure to add a bright spot of color to any garden. And as the flowers fade, they provide an abundance of seed for birds to enjoy fall through winter. The 2020 AAS Winner American Gold Rush provides all the beauty plus a resistance to Septoria leaf spot disease.

Longtime favorite flowers like cosmos, coreopsis, marigolds and zinnias also help bring in the seed-eating birds. Select single flowered varieties for maximum seed production. Radiance and Cosmic Orange cosmos, Sahara Starlight and the Profusion series of zinnias are a few outstanding performers to consider.

Look for other award-winning varieties that attract seed-eating birds, hummingbirds and other pollinators to your garden on the AAS website. AAS is a non-profit trialing organization with test gardens and volunteer judges across the United States and Canada. Winners are selected for their outstanding performance in home gardens and containers.

Increase your garden's beauty, decrease maintenance and bring in the birds with a few of these winning flower varieties.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including "Small Space Gardening." She hosts The Great Courses "How to Grow Anything" gardening DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda's Garden Moment TV and radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by AAS for her expertise to write this article. Myers' web site is www.melindamyers.com.

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