Plants that Attract Cardinals: Top Choices for Your Garden

If you have a green thumb, you can create a garden space that wildly attracts cardinals.

Keep reading, because we’re diving into the right plants that will keep cardinals coming back to your home all year round.

Key Takeaways

  • Planting trees, shrubs, and flowers that attract cardinals can not only improve your backyard’s beauty but also provide suitable habitats and food sources for them.
  • Be mindful of providing shelter and nesting sites, as well as ensuring a water source is available for cardinals.
  • Create a cardinal-friendly landscape by choosing the right bird feeder, minimizing potential threats, and supporting their breeding season and migration patterns.

Food Sources for Cardinals

Cardinals are beautiful birds that can bring life and color to your backyard. Providing a variety of food sources will attract these stunning birds and keep them coming back.

Now, let’s explore different types of food that cardinals enjoy.

Read Next: What Colors Attract Cardinals?

Seeds and Nuts

Cardinals are known for their love of seeds and nuts. Some popular options include:

  • Sunflower seeds: Both black oil sunflower seeds and striped sunflower seeds are favorites among cardinals. Black oil seeds are easier for them to crack open, while striped sunflower seeds provide a larger meal.
  • Safflower seeds: These seeds have a slightly bitter taste, but cardinals seem to enjoy them. These seeds also help deter squirrels and other unwanted visitors from your feeders.
  • Nuts: Cardinals enjoy various nuts, which provide a good source of fats and proteins.
  • Coneflowers: Purple coneflowers not only add beauty to your garden but also attract cardinals due to their seed-filled heads.

Fruits and Berries

Fruits and berries are another essential food source for cardinals. Planting a few of these in your yard will surely attract these birds:

  • Elderberries: These berries are a favorite amongst cardinals and provide necessary nutrients. The elderberry bush is also a great addition to your backyard landscaping.
  • Mulberries: Cardinals love the taste of mulberries, and these trees can also provide shelter for the birds.
  • Serviceberries: Known for providing food for a variety of birds, serviceberries are another excellent option for attracting cardinals.
  • Grapes: Planting grape vines will not only produce delicious fruit for you, but also attract cardinals who enjoy snacking on them.
  • Corn: Planting some corn in your backyard can provide an excellent source of food for cardinals to munch on.

Insects and Caterpillars

Though cardinals mostly eat seeds, nuts, and fruits, they do consume protein-rich insects as well, especially during breeding season. Keeping a healthy garden with a variety of plants will naturally attract a wealth of insects, such as:

  • Caterpillars: These insects provide an excellent source of protein, particularly for young cardinals.
  • Beetles and Bugs: While not a primary food source, cardinals will consume various beetles and bugs if there is a shortage of their preferred seeds and berries.

By providing a variety of these food sources in your yard, you will create a welcoming environment for cardinals to thrive and enjoy.

Gardening for Cardinals

Cardinals are beautiful birds that can bring color and life to your garden. With thoughtful plant selection and landscaping, it’s easy to create a haven for these vibrant creatures.

As you read on, you’ll learn the types of trees, shrubs, and native plants that can help attract cardinals to your yard.

Attracting Cardinals with Trees

Several types of trees offer both food and shelter for cardinals. Consider including the following species in your garden:

  • Dogwood: With attractive flowers and berries, dogwoods provide food and nesting sites for cardinals.
  • Hawthorn: Producing small fruits, hawthorns are a food source for cardinals and offer dense branches to build nests.
  • Crabapple: This tree offers vibrant flowers and fruit, attracting cardinals to have a feast.
  • Hackberry: Cardinals love to nest in hackberry trees, which also produce small berries they enjoy eating.
  • Oak trees: These trees provide acorns for cardinals to eat and short, dense branches to build nests.

Shrubs and Native Plants

Shrubs and native plants provide essential food and shelter for cardinals throughout the year. They appreciate the following varieties:

  • American Holly: Cardinals are attracted to these plants for their dense branches, which offer nesting spots, and bright red berries.
  • Juniper: Junipers produce small seed cones, a favorite food for cardinals, and their dense structure provides excellent cover.
  • Arborvitae: With their dense foliage, arborvitaes provide shelter and nesting sites for cardinals and other birds.
  • Serviceberry: In addition to their berries, serviceberry shrubs can grow tall and provide nesting spots for cardinals.
  • Sumac: Producing clusters of red berries, sumac bushes provide cardinals with food and ideal nesting locations.

Also, incorporating native plants attracts a variety of wildlife, including cardinals, who will enjoy the flowers, seeds, and insects many of these species produce. Maintaining a diverse garden with a mix of trees, shrubs, and native plants creates a healthy ecosystem and ensures that cardinals will continue to grace your yard.

By integrating some of these trees, shrubs, and native plants, you can create a beautiful garden that not only looks great but is also filled with the vibrant life of cardinal birds.

Providing Shelter and Nesting Sites

Thickets and Dense Vegetation

Cardinals are attracted to areas with dense vegetation and thickets, as they provide shelter and nesting sites. Some plants that can create this type of environment include sumac, dogwood, and hawthorn. Planting these types of bushes and shrubs around your yard will increase the chances of cardinals making a home there. It is important to provide a mixture of varying heights and density in your plantings to give cardinals a choice of hiding spots.

When it comes to nesting materials, cardinals prefer a combination of grass clippings, pine needles, and small twigs to build their nests. Providing these materials in your yard will encourage these beautiful birds to come and nest.

Evergreen Trees and Spruces

In addition to dense vegetation and thickets, cardinals are particularly attracted to evergreen trees and spruces. The dense branches of these trees offer shelter throughout the year, protecting the birds from harsh weather. Planting evergreen trees like pines or spruces in your yard will provide a cozy environment for cardinals to nest and roost.

Make sure to consider the landscape of your yard when planting trees and shrubs for cardinals. Having a combination of thickets, dense vegetation, and evergreen trees creates a diverse environment that will appeal to cardinals and provide ample shelter and nesting sites.

By implementing these strategies and providing cardinals with suitable shelter and nesting sites, you can increase the likelihood of attracting these beautiful birds to your yard. Remember to be mindful of the plants and materials you select, as they will ultimately determine the success of your efforts to attract cardinals.

Water Sources for Cardinals

When considering how to attract cardinals to your yard, it’s essential to provide them with suitable water sources. Cardinals, like all birds, need access to fresh water for drinking and bathing. There are several ways to provide water for these beautiful birds, including bird baths, drippers, and misters.

Bird Baths

A popular option for attracting cardinals is to use bird baths. These shallow containers hold water and provide a place for the birds to drink and clean themselves. To entice cardinals and keep them coming back, it’s crucial to maintain the cleanliness of the bird bath and refresh the water regularly. If you live in a region with cold winters, consider investing in heated bird baths to prevent the water from freezing.


Adding a dripper to your bird bath or other water source can help make it more appealing to cardinals. Drippers provide a slow, steady stream of water, which mimics the sound and appearance of natural water sources. Cardinals are more likely to visit your yard when they hear the sound of flowing water. Drippers can be easily attached to bird baths or even placed on a tree branch above a shallow container of water.


Another way to provide water for cardinals is to use misters. Misters release a fine spray of water into the air, simulating the dew and moisture found in nature. You can attach misters to a garden hose or sprinkler system, and they typically have settings to control the amount and intensity of the spray. Cardinals and other birds are attracted to the cool, refreshing mist and will happily bathe and drink from this water source.

In summary, providing water sources such as bird baths, drippers, and misters are essential to attracting cardinals to your yard. Maintaining clean and fresh water will keep these beautiful birds coming back and make your outdoor space a haven for both birds and bird-watchers alike.

Choosing the Right Bird Feeder

When it comes to attracting cardinals to your backyard, selecting the appropriate bird feeder is essential. This section will provide insights on different feeder types and placement strategies to enhance your chances of seeing these beautiful birds up close.

Types of Feeders

There are various bird feeders available in the market, each uniquely designed to cater to different bird species. Considering cardinals, you may decide between the following feeder types:

  1. Tube Feeder: A Woodlink Audubon metal tube feeder can be a perfect choice. It attracts not only cardinals but also other backyard birds like finches and chickadees. Tube feeders keep the seeds in a cylindrical chamber, making it easy for birds to perch and feed.
  2. Platform Feeder: An excellent option for cardinals, platform feeders provide an elevated tray or platform for birds to perch on while eating. Fill this feeder with black oil sunflower seeds, which are highly favored by cardinals.
  3. Mesh Feeder: Try a circular mesh Red Cardinal Feeder if you’re seeking a simpler design. These feeders hold a larger quantity of seeds, and their design facilitates easy access for cardinals to grab seeds through the mesh holes.

Feeder Placement

Where you place your bird feeder plays a significant role in successfully attracting cardinals. Keep these factors in mind when positioning your feeder:

  • Place the feeder near bird-friendly plants like purple cornflowers, milkweed, honeysuckles, or elderberries as the cardinals will find these plants enticing.
  • Ensure that the feeder’s location provides a sense of safety for birds. Place it near shrubs or trees, where cardinals can quickly escape from predators.
  • Cardinals are more likely to be attracted to dense, low-growing thickets for nesting, so placing feeders near these areas increases your chances of drawing them close to your yard.

To sum it up, choosing the right bird feeder and placing it strategically in your backyard will significantly improve your chances of attracting and enjoying the company of cardinals. Additionally, providing the appropriate seeds and maintaining a bird-friendly environment in your garden will make your outdoor space a haven for these beautiful birds.

Minimizing Potential Threats

Attracting cardinals to your yard can be a rewarding experience, but it’s essential to minimize potential threats to create a safe environment for these beautiful birds.

Predators and Pesticides

One of the significant concerns when attracting cardinals is protecting them from predators. Common predators include cats, raccoons, and larger birds such as hawks. To thwart these dangers, ensure that bird feeders and nesting areas are placed away from trees or structures that allow predators easy access. Additionally, using squirrel-proof bird feeders can help keep unwanted animals away.

When it comes to pesticides, it’s crucial to be cautious and consider more natural alternatives—cardinals, like many birds, are sensitive to chemicals. Instead of using harmful pesticides, try opting for natural pest control methods such as introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs or employing organic gardening techniques.

Avoiding Window Collisions

Window collisions pose a significant risk to cardinals, especially if you have reflective surfaces. Birds may mistake reflective windows or glass for open space and collide with them. To prevent this, place bird-safe window decals on the exterior of your windows. Reflective surfaces can be minimized by using non-reflective materials, such as matte finishes or frosted glass.

Another solution is to arrange your bird feeders and plants at a safe distance from windows—ideally, more than 10 feet away. By doing so, you can reduce the chance of cardinals being confused or injured by glass surfaces in your yard.

In summary, minimizing potential threats to cardinals will make your yard a more attractive and secure environment for these marvelous birds. Always consider the safety and well-being of the cardinals when implementing strategies to attract them.

Supporting Cardinal Breeding Season

Cardinals usually begin their breeding season in North America around late February or early March. To provide the most natural environment for baby cardinals, it’s essential to include specific plants in your landscape. Here are some prime choices that cater to cardinal preferences and benefit cardinals during the breeding season.

  • First, consider incorporating native trees that provide food and shelter for cardinals. Oak, hackberry, hawthorn, pine, cherry, and mulberry trees are excellent options for attracting the birds. Moreover, trees like crabapple and tulip trees offer tasty treats for cardinals, with their fruits and seeds being highly appreciated.
  • Having the right bushes and shrubs is helpful too. Serviceberry bushes, American holly, dogwood, and elderberry bushes are great candidates, as they not only offer shelter, but also produce berries that cardinals love to snack on. Similarly, blackberry and sumac bushes can serve as sources of both food and nesting spots.
  • To provide essential materials for building nests, consider adding vines and herbaceous plants like wild grapevines, clematis, sunflowers, purple coneflowers, and verbena flowers. These plants not only create attractive landscapes but also supply the cardinals with twigs, grass clippings, and pine needles for constructing their nests.
  • Remember, while cultivating your garden to support cardinal breeding season, it’s crucial not to use insecticides or herbicides. Cardinals feed on insects like beetles, caterpillars, and grasshoppers, which are part of their natural diet during the breeding season. By abstaining from chemical treatments, you help protect their food supply while also maintaining a healthier environment.

Encouraging Migration and Radiance

Cardinals are known for their brilliant red plumage, adding a touch of radiance to any backyard. One effective way to encourage their migration to your yard is by providing an appealing environment with native plants that attract these beautiful birds.

A variety of trees and shrubs are known to be favorites of cardinals, such as oak, crabapple, hackberry, hawthorn, pine, cherry, and mulberry trees. Additionally, incorporating dense or shrub-like native plants like willows and sagebrush in your garden can be beneficial in attracting these birds.

Cardinals are not only attracted to plants for shelter but also for food. Offering a diverse selection of plants that provide nourishment, like chili piquin, mulberry trees, grapes, Virginia creepers, purple coneflowers, sunflowers, service berries, and elderberries, will increase the chances that these vibrant birds find your backyard appealing and decide to make it their new habitat.

Adding native plants to your landscape will not only enhance its natural beauty, but also create a welcoming environment for the northern cardinal migration. Similar to the symbolism of Cardinals in the Vatican, these radiant birds in your backyard can bring joy and represent a harmonious connection with nature.

To truly create an ideal habitat for cardinals, ensure that your garden offers not just the right plants, but also a suitable nesting area and clean, fresh water sources. By doing so, you become a beacon of radiance, encouraging the migration of these magnificent birds and providing them with a serene environment to thrive.

Cardinal-Friendly Landscaping

Creating a cardinal-friendly landscape involves incorporating native trees, grasses, and perennials that make the environment more appealing for these beautiful birds. By providing the essentials – food, water, and shelter – you’ll increase the chances of attracting cardinals to your yard.

Start by planting native trees such as mulberry, serviceberry, flowering dogwood, and crabapple trees. These trees not only provide seeds and berries for cardinals to feed on, but they also offer nesting sites. In addition to native trees, consider adding shrubs like staghorn sumac, red-osier dogwood, gray dogwood, and viburnum species. These dense, twiggy shrubs can serve as nesting sites and offer food options.

Integrating a variety of grasses is also ideal since cardinals feed on the seeds they produce. Opt for native grasses like switchgrass, big bluestem, or purpletop to offer natural food sources for these colorful birds.

Don’t forget to include perennials in your landscape to attract cardinals. Flowering plants such as purple cornflower, milkweed, and sunflowers offer seeds and nectar that cardinals love. Moreover, dill and fennel plants serve as a food source for cardinals, attracting them with their seeds and foliage.

In addition to plants, take the time to ensure accessible water sources are available. Birdbaths or shallow ponds can provide drinking and bathing opportunities for cardinals.

By investing in cardinal-friendly landscaping, creating layers in your environment with a combination of native trees, grasses, and perennials, you’ll not only have a beautiful yard but also increase your chances of witnessing the charming presence of cardinal birds.

Frequently Asked Questions

What plants can help bring cardinals to my yard?

Cardinals are attracted to a variety of plants that provide food and shelter. Consider planting oak trees, crabapple trees, hackberry trees, hawthorn trees, or pine trees in your yard to attract these beautiful birds. For bushes and shrubs, try serviceberry bushes, American holly, dogwood, or American beautyberry.

Which flowers are most appealing to cardinals?

Cardinals enjoy colorful flowers that produce seeds or small fruits. Some popular options include sunflowers, purple coneflowers, verbena flowers, and wild grapevines. These flowers not only add visual appeal to your garden but also provide cardinals with a food source.

What trees do cardinals prefer for nesting?

Cardinals typically prefer trees and shrubs with dense foliage for nesting. Some examples are cherry trees, mulberry trees, tulip trees, and pine trees. These trees provide cardinals with ample cover and protection from predators while they raise their young.

How do I draw cardinals and bluejays to my garden?

Both cardinals and bluejays are attracted to gardens with a variety of food sources, shelter, and nesting opportunities. Incorporate trees, shrubs, and flowers that produce seeds, fruits, or nuts, such as oak trees and crabapple trees. Offer a diverse selection of foods, including black oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and fresh berries in bird feeders. Ensure your garden has a source of fresh water like a birdbath or a small pond for birds to drink and bathe in.

What bird feeder type is most attractive to cardinals?

Cardinals are comfortable perching on different feeder types, but they might prefer platform or tray feeders that provide a flat surface to stand on while feeding. Fill the feeder with black oil sunflower seeds or safflower seeds, which are cardinal favorites.

Which plants are best for attracting cardinals in winter?

During the winter months, focus on plants that retain their berries and seed heads throughout the season. This can include holly bushes, crabapple trees, and dogwood trees. Evergreen trees and shrubs, such as pines and hollies, are particularly beneficial, as they provide both food and shelter for cardinals during the cold months.

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