A contented gardener can sit for hours in the backyard under a favorite tree — or in a rocking chair on the veranda — simply watching the birds and butterflies that come to visit. Gardeners delight in designing a landscape that not only looks appealing but also provides a habitat to welcome their favorite winged creatures. However, some plants are favored more than others by birds and butterflies, so it’s the careful consideration of your overall landscape design that can make your yard and garden come alive with fluttering wings!
Whether you’re watching year-round native bird species or seasonal, migratory birds, providing the plants they need for shelter, nesting and food invites them to call your yard “home.”
Evergreen trees and shrubs provide year-round protection for birds. These plants shield birds from predators and act as wind screens to keep cold, winter winds at bay.
- Choose needled evergreens, such as Green Giant Arborvitae (Thuja (standishii x plicata) ’Green Giant’, USDA zones 5-9), as fast-growing havens for birds.
- American Holly (Ilex opaca, USDA zones 5-9) offers a fruiting food source for many birds with its bright-red berries, and its sharp, prickly leaves discourage predators from reaching nesting birds inside the branches.
Deciduous trees and shrubs lose their leaves in autumn, but they provide nesting sites for birds during spring and summer.
- Flowering Dogwood Tree (Cornus florida, USDA zones 5-8) is a favorite nesting site for many birds, and an added benefit is the profusion of red berries it produces in fall that birds love to eat. An especially striking cultivar is Cherokee Chief, a red-flowering dogwood.
- You’ll enjoy the fragrance of Sweet Mock Orange flowers (Philadelphus coronarius, USDA zones 4-8) almost as much as the birds that like to nest there in this shrub’s branches!
Who can resist the antics of this tiny bird? Buzzing to and fro in their search for food, hummingbirds truly make a garden come alive. Because their food preferences differ from other bird species, be sure to design your garden with plenty of nectar sources for these gems of the bird world.
Trees. Some species of trees, such as the Tulip Poplar Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera, USDA zones 4-9), bear flowers that cater to a hummingbird’s sweet tooth. The Tulip Poplar tree is also a host plant for several butterfly species, including the Eastern Black Swallowtail.
Perennial Flowers. You may think hummingbirds only eat from tall plants because you’ve seen them visit nectar feeders. But they’ll visit low-growing flowers, too! So be sure and place shorter flowering plants around your outside sitting area to enjoy the hummers up close and personal.
- Coral Bells (Heuchera spp., USDA zones 4-9) are clumping perennials that are typically grown for their colorful foliage. But they also bear bell-shaped flowers that lure hummingbirds from all corners of your yard! Two cultivars guaranteed to ring the hummingbird dinner bell: Caramel Heuchera (buttery golden leaves) and Peach Flambe Heuchera (red-splashed peach-toned leaves).
- Phlox flowers come in a rainbow of colors, and some are prettily patterned. For example, each white flower petal of Candy Stripe Phlox (Phlox subulata ‘Candy Stripe’, USDA zones 3-9) has a pink stripe down the middle.
Flowering Vines. Scrambling up a lattice screen, crawling over a pergola or cascading over a fence, flowering vines offer a feast for your eyes as well as a feast for the hummingbirds.
- The brilliant fuchsia-striped violet-starburst flowers of Fireworks Clematis (Clematis ‘Fireworks’, USDA zones 4-8) lure hummingbirds to come sip their sweet nectar.
- Unlike its invasive plant relatives, Amethyst Falls Blue Wisteria (Wister frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’, USDA zones 5-9) has fragrant blossoms that look like clusters of grapes! Hummingbirds simply can’t resist these showy flowers.
If you want to have a garden filled with butterflies, you need to have plants that cater to all their life stages. This means providing nectar plants for the adult butterflies to feed on and host plants for them to lay eggs on. After the caterpillars hatch, they need a source of food before they mature into butterflies – not nectar as the adults eat, but plant leaves.
Trees and Shrubs. If you’ve only planted flowering herbaceous perennials in your butterfly garden, plant some butterfly-friendly trees and shrubs and you’ll attract even more butterfly species.
- The Cassia Tree (Cassia fistula, USDA zones 7-9) is a spectacular sight in spring because it is covered with yellow flowers. Typically, trees bloom a second time in fall. This tree is a host plant for several butterfly species.
- Butterfly Bushes (Buddleia spp., USDA zones 5-9) didn’t get their common name by chance. These shrubs are true butterfly magnets. Try these cultivars: Black Knight (dark purple flowers), Pink Delight (bright pink blossoms) or White Profusion (creamy-white blooms).
Perennial Flowers. Research shows that butterflies prefer certain shapes of flowers, primarily so they have an area to land while they feed — they do not hover above flowers like hummingbirds when they sip nectar. Look for plants with wide flower petals, flat flower heads or flower clusters.
- Blazing Star Liatris (Liatris spicata, USDA zones 3-8) is a superior butterfly plant because of its tall flower spikes composed of many individual flowers. Butterflies have lots of nectar portals on each flower spike!
- Magnus Coneflower (Echnicacea purpurea ‘Magnus’, USDA zones 3-8) is a magnificent butterfly plant. Plant some of these in your garden and you’ll be amazed at the number of butterflies they attract!
- Soulmate Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata ‘Soulmate’, USDA zones 3-8). There’s really nothing “weedy” about this plant — it’s a terrific butterfly plant, specifically as a host plant for Monarch butterflies.
Two Extras for Your Bird and Butterfly Habitat
- Don’t forget to provide a water source for the birds in your yard.
- Make a “puddling pool” for butterflies by filling a shallow clay dish with sand or clay and burying it to its rim. Keep it moist by simply watering it when you water your flowers!
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