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BONNIE’S GARDEN – How to Keep Birds OUT of Hanging Baskets

By Bonnie Pega
Bonnie's Garden

We got in some beautiful Dragon Wing begonia hanging baskets and I bought one and hung it by the front door last week. Two days later, as I was walking in the door from work. I saw a few bits of debris on the ground. I sighed, knowing what I was going to find—the beginnings of a bird’s nest.

I’ve been through this before—many times before. From personal experience, I’ll tell you to never make the mistake of thinking it’ll be cute to watch the baby birds grow. Yeah, it’s really cute to clean bird poop from the side of the house/front door/sidewalk. And it is even cuter to try to water a hanging basket with baby birds in it.

You can buy professional bird repellents online—I saw one for $96.00 for a ½ gallon—and that didn’t count the hose adapter you had to buy. Yeah, right.

However, from years of experience, I’ve found some FAR less expensive ways to deal with it:

  1. Clean out nesting materials as soon as you find them. Sometimes the birds realize this might not be a good place to nest and move on. Sometimes….
  2. Stick toothpicks or plastic forks in the soil—this makes it hard for a bird to find a place to situate a nest.
  3. Provide birdhouses in appropriate locations—for more information check out the National Wildlife Federation at https://www.nwf.org/Magazines/National-Wildlife/2010/Best-Bird-Houses
  4. Saturate a few cotton balls with peppermint oil and place in the pot. Birds tend to avoid really strong scents.
  5. Use a fake predator. You can find statues of owls, for example. We have some here, as a matter of fact, with heads that move.

Me, well, I go for the rubber snake I got at a dollar store. When using a fake snake, move it a little every couple of days so birds don’t get “used” to it.

And the next time the family practical jokester comes to visit, ask them to check the plant for water….

48 thoughts on “BONNIE’S GARDEN – How to Keep Birds OUT of Hanging Baskets

  1. Hang strips of aluminum foil or Mylar on the hanging basket hanger. Birds don’t like anything shiny. It works like a charm every time.

  2. I would buy more of your hanging baskets if you could guarantee that birds would nest in them. Most birds remove droppings for cleanliness in the nest and to avoid advertising the nest location. Birds + flowers = double the beauty. Our backyard birds need all the help we can provide. Those baby birds will be fledging in no time at all. Enjoy.

  3. I’ve tried the rubber snakes – did not help! But I have not tried toothpicks or peppermint oil – good suggestions!

  4. Nancy, yes, that’ll work, too–except for several years ago when one little blue jay took exception the first time I tried that and “attacked” the foil. It was hilarious….

  5. Thank you very much.
    I had birds trying to build a nest in our outside fan.
    The simplest solution, after clearing it out several times, was to strong scent it as you suggested and we turned the fan ON!
    I have used your SNAKE idea as well, but honestly, it was more for a practical joke!

  6. I cover the soil in my hanging baskets with little pebbles. They look nice and the problem is completely solved.

  7. Deb, I do try to give my neighborhood birds habitats. I have several birdhouses around. It’s just this one hanging basket right by the front door that seems to attract little wrens every year or two and it does make a mess by the door. On the occasions I’ve missed the next until eggs are in it, the hanging basket ends up dying because it’s hard to water with baby birds in there.

  8. I have birds EVERY year; several times throughout the year even into fall build a nest in the front door wreath. The rubber snake did not work & a terrible smelling repellent only worked for a short time. I finally covered my wreath with netting which works well if you are certain to leave NO openings. However, it truly ruined the look of my wreath which I specifically made to be wispy and dimensional!!!!

  9. If peppermint-oil-soaked cotton balls are detering birds, it’s not due to the scent. Perhaps just the presence of the white cotton balls.

    Except for carrion-eating birds like vultures, birds have no sense of smell.

  10. I think our feathered friends need all the help they can get. They are more than welcome to nest in my baskets. I think we need to learn to live along side nature and stop trying to sanitize everything around us. The only exception would be if you have outdoor cats who destroy nearby nesting birds and hatching babies.

  11. Our granddaughter collects and displays garden gnomes in a variety of sizes. The next time I’m hanging flower baskets I’ll ask to borrow one for each container. I would imagine that a mid-size gnome would fill enough of the center part part of the container to make it less convenient for the birds. Now, I just have to convince her that her gnomes are not afraid of heights and will, in fact, enjoy the view!

  12. I’ve used gum balls and/or small pine cones in the spaces between the plants or the plant and the pot.

  13. Regarding birds nesting in wreaths… I rotate mine every few days. The little dears don’t find a stable spot!

  14. any suggestions to how to fend off crows? I happily had a mourning dove nest on my windowsill. I watched as the eggs hatched and they grew to fledglings. Then a crow snatched a fledgling too young to fly. It was very sad
    Is there a way to prevent crows from getting to my doves (if they come back)? (yes, yes, I know this is nature’s way, but I loved having the doves)

  15. Mine is a basket that hangs on the front door with artificial flowers. I’ve just cleaned out the third nest in that many days. One was mostly mud and was a mess. The others were dry twigs. I’ve had this on my door for years, just changing the flowers and never had a problem. I could try the tooth pics in a small bit of florist block, but there are lots of places where a nest could be started. Now the spot is near the handle. But why now after 20 years of not having anything.

  16. I am trying intertwined fishwire threaded through the chains of my plant hanger! Hope it works.
    Love my hanging ferns.

  17. I’ve had them build a nest in the wreath on my front door before, too! I kept cleaning it out and cleaning it out. They finally gave up and move to the hanging basket instead. So far, the rubber snake is working….

  18. I’ll have to give that a try–so far, the rubber snake seems to be working though…

  19. Thanks for the suggestion! If the rubber snake stops working, I’ll give it a go.

  20. If birds want to build nests ANYWHERE ELSE in my yard (and they do!) they are welcome. But after my experience cleaning bird droppings off the porch and the mat by the front door and off the side of the house, then having a baby try to fly out and get nabbed by my neighbor’s cat (who likes to sleep on my porch), I decided the one place they shouldn’t build a nest is by the front door. It also got a little difficult to water the basket once it had baby birds in it, so it ended up looking terrible.

  21. I know. I don’t know how many people I’ve talking out of mothballs in hanging baskets! You’re right. Birds have no sense of smell–nor do they have a sense of taste–that’s why adding red pepper flakes to birdseed helps to keep squirrels away. Squirrels taste the heat, but birds don’t.

  22. Sorry, the rubber snake didn’t work for you. Did you move it every couple of days? So far, it has worked great in the basket by the front door.

  23. My birds have the ENTIRE yard to build nests in. If they DID clean up their droppings, so I didn’t have to wash the side of the house, wash off the doormat and clean them off the porch, maybe….but my birds did NOT clean up their mess, leaving it to me. And because my neighbor’s cat likes to sleep in the chair on my porch, he nabbed the first fledgling that flew out of the nest….and the half-dead basket didn’t look so good either, because it got nearly impossible to water with baby birds in it.

  24. Last year a pair of house finches were tearing up what began as a very large hanging begonia – breaking off huge branches at a time.
    I fashioned a hanging basket of fake dollar store flowers, moved the nest – with eggs in it – to the fake flower basket, and hung it in place of the live begonia (rehung the begonia on other side of porch). The birds took to it like a charm. This spring, I began by hanging the fake flowers first. Again, the pair took to it (babies all flew away yesterday). Two weeks ago I hung a live basket opposite the fake one and lo and behold, after raising a litter(?) in the fake one, they are now building a new nest in the live plant 🙁

  25. Carol–mothballs contain toxic chemicals which can leach into the soil AND, occasionally even damage the plant you’re trying to protect. Also, birds do not use their sense of smell the way that mammals do so the smell will likely not bother them as much as it would a mammal.

  26. I just discovered I had brand new baby birds in a nest in a hanging geranium planter on my front porch. I had brought the basket inside to trim up and water. Did not realize it had a nest and birds inside until I reached in to pull out some dead leaves. I put the plant back outside but am afraid the babies may have been damaged. I would never have guessed a bird would make a nest in the plant. Now I know and will get a rubber snake for next time. I feel bad for the birds.

  27. Hopefully, they’ll be okay. Now that I’ve discovered the “secret” they leave my baskets alone. On other other hand, it never occurred to me that they’d make a nest in the wreath on my back door….LOL

  28. Like several people on here have said we should all just learn to live with nature. If birds nesting in your hanging plants, and cleaning droppings off of your porch is that much of a inconveinience to some of you, add lots of bird houses(and actually take the time out to research if there are any of your backyard bird species that require specific types). More than likely new/expirienced bird parents find that spot to start their nest more suitable for their needs or as I said above not enough suitable houses set up for them. I hope someone finds this helpful.

  29. I am so frustrated. First year in my house. I hung flower baskets. The birds built nests in 3 of the 5 and killed the plants. I tried to be patient and hoped they would have flown away while O was on vacation. Well the group did but they have now laid more eggs. I have learned forget decorating my beautiful front porch. Major disappointment. Nature is cool until it uses my porch as a john.

  30. Get in the habit–like I have to–of checking your baskets every couple of days for nesting material and remove it. Also, the rubber snake does work–just move it around every few days so they don’t “get used” to seeing it there.

  31. I love nature. I love birds. However, I spent $70 on 4 Boston ferns to hang on my back porch. They were so thick, I figured there was no way they would build a nest there, but house finches just did. I’ve just taken the plant down. The nest was new, so no baby birds hurt. However, the parents are very unhappy. If I leave the nest on the porch, I can’t enjoy the porch. The birds are spooked by my presence. We have only 3-4 months to enjoy summer in this part of the country. House finches found other places to build their nests before my porch was built. They have a big beautiful organic garden in which to build their nest–outside the porch. I’m thinking the only thing I can do is cover the plants with netting–not beautiful, but effective.

  32. I put pebbles on top of the soil in my hanging baskets this year. It worked perfectly! A couple of juncos checked them out but moved on as they couldn’t get to the soil. First time in 15 years we haven’t had nests (we did enjoy them the first few years). Also, not as many crows hanging around waiting for the babies to hatch. Will keep the pebbles for next year for sure!

  33. We had a couple of yellow bellied flycatchers build a pretty impressive nest in our hanging plant on the balcony of my upstairs office. We thought it was soooo cute and fun — until it wasn’t. The bird poop was fine- we just washed it off a couple of time a week. The issue was the bird mites. They seemed to suddenly appear one day- I went out on the balcony to clean and became covered in them within a minute. Tiny tiny – you almost can’t see them – but they bite and leave you feeling itchy. They can’t live on human blood – so they will die off in a couple of weeks if they infest your home. So good news there. And, it became pretty unpleasant having to work with the balcony doors closed all the time and not being able to go out and enjoy the balcony in the evenings. So — we waited until the babies flew from the nest, got rid of it, and will be doing whatever it takes to prevent them from nesting there again. There are plenty of other places for them to nest in our yard or around the house and they are welcome! But, no more will they be allowed where bird mites can get into our home and on our bodies.

  34. Birds nested in a hanging fern on my back porch and a large snake came–and stayed–to eat the eggs. We got rid of the snake and any ideas of future hanging baskets.

  35. I stand by the rubber snake—birds won’t near it and snakes usually stay away from other snakes. Check your basket often, too. Everytime I walk by I check mine.

  36. Whelp I tried everything to keep the Junkos out of my hanging plants. I used rubber snakes moved around, cotton balls soaked with ammonia and or citrus oil. I placed small rocks in my planters and also wooden skewers. Guess what, nothing worked, I give up. I surrender. They build nests anyways. Now I don’t mind the Robin’s, and the Eastern phoebe nesting in my porch overhangs, but my plants…booo.

  37. Every once in a while there is a spot that is just so attractive to birds, you just can’t hang a basket there. I have a spot in the corner of my back deck that nothing seems to work, but it all works fine on the front porch and any other spot. About all you can do is check ever day or two and remove nesting material as you find it.

  38. Living with nature is fine but when it destroys your porch and ruins your plants and yard that your earned money pays then you have to kick them out sorry !!!

  39. I know–every year I go back to my “buddy” the rubber snake, to keep bird out of the basket by my front door!

    Bonnie

  40. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080716111421.htm#:~:text=Summary%3A,well%2Ddeveloped%20sense%20of%20smell. I was confused when someone said birds can’t smell scents. So this article begs to differ. I was thinking of mith balls. I live around many trees where birds can nest. But every year birds nest in my artificial hanging flower baskets. As much as I love the birds, I don’t love the poop all over my porch and inside the baskets so in my new baskets this year I will put foil and mothballs inside. The birds have a gazillion trees and birdhouses they are more than welcome to use.

  41. I’ll stick my rubber snakes. They work great. The problem with moth balls, they do release toxic chemicals into the soil. I want to repel birds, not kill them.

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