By Cris Carl, Networx
Attracting hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden not only can bring a sense of delight, but tie you into something greater as well. “You can enjoy the full circle in your garden. Our plants are part of a global eco-system,” said Sarah Mary Gerchman, assistant manager of Annie’s Garden and Gift Center in Amherst, Mass.
Gerchman gave the example of how hummingbirds eat aphids. “Aphids are often seen as immediate pests in gardens. So you can enjoy beautiful flowers, and attract hummingbirds which help protect the plants,” she said. An additional note on garden pest control: At a Vegetable Entomologist Workshop in Dallas, pest control experts said to "avoid broad-spectrum insecticies to conserve natural enemies" like hummingbirds.
Flowers and tips to attract hummingbirds to your garden
Gerchman said that hummingbirds are attracted to tubular-shaped flowers. For colder climates such as New England, she said one of the best choices is Trumpet Vine as they are attracted to both the shape and bright red color. “What a lot of people don’t know is that hummingbirds don’t have a sense of smell. People think they are attracted to flowers with a strong fragrance. They are actually attracted to the colors -- bright reds, pinks, and oranges,” she said.
Gerchman recommended Mandevilla plant for warmer, more tropical climates, though they can be grown anywhere if they are brought inside for the winter. “They are a big draw for hummingbirds because the flowers are the perfect shape for their beaks,” said Gerchman. “Also, if you have a big ugly fence you want to hide, Trumpet Vines are aggressive climbers. They have beautiful flowers and foliage” she added.
Gerchman added that you can plan your hummingbird garden as perennial, or annual, and you can also incorporate shrubs. An added bonus of strategically planting shrubs is that they can help cut your summer electrical costs by shading your house.
- Recommended perennials include Aster, Bee Balm, Day Lily, Foxglove, Globe Thistle, Hollyhock, Lupine, Milkweed, and Phlox.
- Annuals include Cleome, Fuchsia, Impatiens, Petunia, Salvia, Snapdragon, and Zinnia.
- Vines to attract hummingbirds include Honeysuckle, Morning Glory, and Scarlet Runner Bean.
- Recommended shrubs are Butterfly Bush and Weigela.
If you place hummingbird feeders out, be sure to clean the feeder out at least once a month with a solution of ¼ C. bleach or white vinegar to one gallon of water. Avoid using soap as the birds do not like the taste. In Annie’s literature they also recommend a running water feature to your garden to attract hummingbirds as this creates a comfortable habitat for them.
Attracting butterflies to your garden
Gerchman said to attract butterflies, to incorporate shallow pools in your gardens so they have water to drink. “Some people take the tops of bird baths and sink them into the garden,” she said. (Be careful that these pools do not become mosquito habitats.) Gerchman said that butterflies like bright, sunny areas. “Butterflies need to maintain their body temperatures between 85 and 100 degrees. That’s why you often see them resting on a flat rock. So incorporating flat rocks into your garden gives them a place to sit and warm up,” she said.
As for plants, Gerchman said the “classic” choice is Butterfly Bush. “When we get a shipment in here, sometimes there are clouds of butterflies that get attracted to them,” she said. Another choice is Butterfly Weed, which when growing wild is also known by the less attractive name, Pleurisy Root.
Female butterflies locate and lay eggs on plants that provide food for caterpillars such as Dill, Holly Hock, Milkweed, and Sunflowers.
- Recommended perennials to attract butterflies include many of the same flowers that attract hummingbirds as well as Black Eyed Susan, Cone Flower, Joe Pye Weed, Lavender, and Turtlehead.
- Annuals to attract butterflies include Lantana, Marigold, Nasturtium, and Sunflowers.
Good shrubs to attract butterflies are Blueberry bushes and Lilac.