Attracting Birds and Butterflies

Bird, butterflies and hummingbirds are as beautiful as they are practical for the garden.

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Milkweeds are easy-to-grow native perennials with orange, nectar-rich flowers that are legendary butterfly plants. (SHNS photo by Maureen Gilmer / DIY)

There is nothing quite as miraculous as seeing an ordinary landscape come alive with birds, butterflies, hummingbirds and moths. But there's a practical side to this picture, too.

If you plant enough nectar sources in your garden, hummingbirds are likely to nest in the vicinity. (SHNS photo by Maureen Gilmer / DIY)
Fast-growing Mexican sage is the ideal heat-loving seasonal hummingbird plant. (SHNS photo by Maureen Gilmer / DIY)
Flowering crabapples are sown accent trees that double as a valuable food source for birds. (SHNS photo by Maureen Gilmer / DIY)
The firecracker-red blooms of California fuchsia are so nectar-rich that possessive hummingbirds will fight over "ownership" of the plant. (SHNS photo by Maureen Gilmer / DIY)

Birds feed on bad bugs that would otherwise ravage the garden. Underfoot, lizards and toads gobble up creepy crawlers like ticks and fleas that threaten you and the pests that plague your plants. Beneficial insects such as preying mantids, ladybugs and lacewings keep the tiniest aphids and spider mites in bounds, too. Such diversity ensures a balance of predator to prey species that keeps your garden naturally care free.

Birds are not only the most animated living things in gardens, they also are sharp-eyed fliers in a perpetual hunt for insect pests. Why use toxic, expensive and labor-intensive chemical controls when birds do it for you?

A food source is all you need to lure birds and give them an incentive to hang around. If you plant the right trees, shrubs and vines, the birds will come without your ever having to fuss with feeders.

Birds love small fruits and berries, which is why they are a problem in orchards. You can plant virtually any tree, shrub or vine with berries, and the birds will come. If you want low-maintenance bird lures, try planting natives they recognize.

Great starters are chokecherries, wild currant, elderberries, blueberries, viburnums and crabapples. Firethorn is an excellent exotic shrub for birds. They also love all kinds of sunflowers if you allow the heads to remain and the seed to mature in fall.

Butterflies are among the most treasured garden visitors that animate a garden like no other creature. Plants which feed the adult butterfly produce nectar-rich flowers. The most renowned native is butterfly weed, (Asclepias tuberosa). The primary exotic is a rangy, fast-growing shrub called butterfly bush, (Buddleia davidii). Both of these integrated into your garden ensure a lively gathering every year.

Other butterfly nectar plants include black-eyed Susan, goldenrod and prairie coneflower. Fast-growing lantanas and verbenas are potent garden color and valuable magnets for hot, dry climates.

Hummingbirds are the most entertaining of all wildlife. Their ability to hover allows you much closer range viewing than with other birds. If your garden provides them a rich food source, they'll definitely hang around all season long. In some regions hummers are seasonal guests, while further south many species remain year-round.

Hummingbirds are mesmerized by the color red, making a beeline for all flowers of this hue. While nearly any red flower lures hummers, not all provide a food source. Many native flowers are great nectar providers, drawing in these little birds.

Two native vines from the Southeast, trumpet creeper, (Campsis radicans) and trumpet honeysuckle, (Lonicera sempervirens) are perfect for fences or arbors. Both grow quickly for colorful coverage that'll get hummers buzzing around in no time.
Perennial flowers that come back year after year are a great long-term habitat for hummingbirds. Many species of native Penstemons offer a rainbow of colors, all of which are hummer favorites. Equally as appealing are the Salvias, both American natives and the exotic species. Tailored for drier gardens, both these groups make a spectacular cottage garden color border that doubles as habitat. When planted near windows and outdoor living spaces, you're guaranteed a daily show. Consider California fuchsia, (Zauschneria californica) the best hummingbird plant in hot dry climates.

It takes just a year or two to completely transform your garden into a beautiful habitat. There's no need to sacrifice color because birds and butterflies love it as much as you do. It is quite true that if you plant right, they will come. And you'll never have to fuss with filling a feeder again.

(Maureen Gilmer is a horticulturist and host of Weekend Gardening on DIY-Do It Yourself Network. E-mail her at For more information, visit : or Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)

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