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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July10-W; Birdseed does NOT cause that bare spot in your lawn

Does birdseed cause a bare spot under feeders?


Probably  not. Birdseed accumulation prevents grass from growing – birdseed by itself does not.

Birds eating at feeders, when they eat a seed, simply drop the inedible seed hull on the ground, and grass doesn’t grow right there. So there is a widespread suspicion that the thin, woody hulls of sunflower seeds inhibit widespread plant growth. To be perfectly honest, I thought so too – until we did some research.

Lots of people with better brains and more college degrees studied this situation. They found that sunflower hulls (the most common seed) do not present a chemical barrier to germination and seedling development. Rather, an accumulation of seed hulls can function as a mulch. Sunlight can’t easily reach new growth or seeds through the mulch. Also, the empty hulls (as they get mashed into the soil by foot traffic, animals, even a good rain) reduce the amount of real soil available to any plant trying to grow there. Also, the empty hulls take nitrogen from the soil as they decompose, which all plants need to grow.

There is a scientific term for a plant’s producing a chemical that prevents other plants from growing nearby;  allelopathy. In north Texas one of the plants that is allelopathic is the walnut, which produces the chemical juglone that prevents other plants from growing (this is more than you want to know, isn’t it?). Sunlowers aren't allelopathic, however.
To prevent accumulation, I recommend that you clean the seed hulls from beneath feeders about once a week. A simple broom and dustpan works perfectly. I’d also rake the area lightly, dislodging any missed hulls. With no accumulated mulch of empty seed hulls, the area beneath your feeders will do just fine. Also, using fresh birdseed minimizes the amount that birds just let fall to the ground, uneaten. Dumping extra water on a bare spot in hopes that grass will grow, may actually have the opposite result - killing grass via root rot.

As an alternative, you can put a few large stones beneath your feeders, or a patch of gravel. I’d avoid putting ornamental plants directly under feeders however. They’re a hindrance to ground-feeding birds like doves, juncos, thrashers and true sparrows


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