July 11, 2010 in Features

A welcome mat for butterflies, hummingbirds

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Susan Mulvihill photo

This purple bellflower, or Campanula persicifolia, is a favorite of hummingbirds.
(Full-size photo)

Some of my favorite garden visitors are butterflies and hummingbirds. They bring a lot of color and excitement to the garden.

The great news is that the plants they are attracted to are some of the most delightful ones you’d want in your landscape.

The best way to attract a lot of butterflies is to provide plants that will feed their larvae and those that have nectar for the adults.

Plants in the carrot family – such as parsley, parsnip, dill, chervil, fennel and, of course, carrots – will provide plenty of food for the caterpillars. They will munch on milkweed plants, also known as butterfly weed (Asclepias), as well as clover, mustard, snapdragons and lupines.

Plants that will attract butterflies include asters, bee balm (Monarda), the aptly named butterfly bush (Buddleia), coneflowers (Echinacea), foxgloves (Digitalis), gayfeathers (Liatris), hollyhocks (Alcea), honeysuckles (Lonicera), lavender, phlox, pinks (Dianthus), sunflowers (Helianthus), tickseed (Coreopsis) and zinnias.

Butterflies appreciate sunny areas that are sheltered from the wind. By planting low-growing groundcovers and placing large, flat rocks in the garden, you will give them places to sun themselves.

Shallow containers filled with pebbles or sand and water will provide a safe place for them to take a drink. Some gardeners set out overripe bananas or other soft fruits and even salt blocks to meet the butterflies’ need for minerals.

Most importantly, avoid using pesticides as they can harm butterflies at all stages in their life cycle.

Hummingbirds are little marvels of nature. It’s difficult to comprehend the amount of energy they must need in order to beat their wings at speeds of up to 80 times per second. Each spring, they migrate from Central America to as far north as Alaska.

The types of hummingbirds we see most frequently in the Inland Northwest are the Rufous, Calliope and Black-chinned.

It’s pretty amazing to watch a brightly colored male as it soars up into the sky only to perform a death-defying dive, all to impress the female hummingbird of his dreams.

They most commonly nest in trees or shrubs and usually lay two eggs. Wouldn’t it be a thrill to find a hummingbird nest and watch them raise their young?

Gardeners will especially appreciate the fact that, in addition to consuming nectar, hummingbirds eat tiny insects such as winged aphids, white flies and gnats.

The nice thing about hummingbirds is that they are attracted to many of the same plants that attract butterflies. The key is to select those that have bright, colorful flowers, particularly orange or red blossoms; hummingbirds are attracted to colors rather than scents.

Other plants that act as hummingbird magnets include beardtongues (Penstemon), bellflowers (Campanula), columbines (Aquilegia) and coral bells (Heuchera).

Annuals that will get their attention include morning glory vines (Ipomoea purpurea, not to be confused with field bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis), fuchsias, lantanas, nasturtiums and petunias.

You can also provide them with energy drinks in the form of a simple, homemade nectar that is placed in hummingbird feeders.

The recipe is one part sugar to four parts water. I start with warm water and stir the mixture until the sugar has dissolved. I don’t add any red food coloring because the brightly colored feeders will be the only attractant you’ll need.

Let the mixture cool before filling the feeder and place it outdoors. Always keep the feeders clean and free of mold, and replace the nectar daily once our hot summer days arrive.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via e-mail at inthegarden@live.com. Visit her blog at susansinthe garden.blogspot.com for more gardening information and


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