Birds, Bees and Butterflies, Oh My!

Attracting Pollinators to the Garden

Let’s face it, flight fascinates us. Whether it is a hummingbird hovering in mid-air or a butterfly fluttering by, the agility, grace and mystery of animals in flight is captivating. Is that why we are so drawn to invite winged creatures into the landscape? Is it the intricate patterns they paint in the summer sky or something more practical? Perhaps we are connected by the services they have long provided mankind, the brotherhood of pollination. In the very least, we share the same desires in the garden: brightly colored, sweet-smelling blossoms. Oh, and sugar.

Butterflies, bees and flower-feeding birds all have a sweet tooth. They need pollen and nectar from flowers to power their flight and nourish offspring. To ensure an abundance of these fascinating animals in the garden all year long, we can provide a diversity of flowering plants that bloom throughout the growing season, from early spring to late fall.

To Each His Own
While many plants support all manner of winged beast, each group does have preferences. Hummingbirds favor red flowers over any other color, while bees ignore red. The size and shape of the flower are also important. Among bees alone, we find more than 4,000 species in North America, each with different body shapes, tongue lengths and associated feeding references. Of course, each species will also feed on a number of different food sources, so it is important to have several species flowering at once.

To attract the greatest diversity of pollinators, include flowers of multiple colors, shapes and sizes. Make the garden more attractive to pollinators by clustering species of plants into clumps rather than scattering individual plants throughout a garden. Don’t forget about flowering trees and shrubs, which offer food as well as shelter.

Bring on the Bees
Bees can see colors well and rely on vision to find nectar. They are most attracted to blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow flowers. Many different native bee species can be found visiting the composite flowers of ‘Sunset Orange’ Gaillardia with their rich, abundant nectaries. You will find the vibrant spires of Dark Blue Moody Blues™ Veronica buzzing with bees all summer long. Numerous species are also attracted to the small flowers of ‘Princess Dark Lavender’ Verbena and Azure Skies™ Heliotrope.

Catering to Hummers
Hummingbirds are looking for something a little different in a flower. Their long, narrow beak is designed to reach deep into the necks of tubular flowers such as Lydia™ and Bells of Fire™ Tecoma. But you may be surprised at the smaller flowers on which the birds feed. The necks of Saucy™ Wine and Saucy™ Red Salvias are not too tight for hummingbirds to penetrate, nor are those of Ragin’ Cajun™ Ruellia. You will also find them hovering among the blossoms on your Shining Sensation™ Weigelas.

Enticing Butterflies
We all know that butterfly bush, such as Ultra Violet™ Buddleia, is one of the best shrubs we can plant to attract butterflies to the garden. On a smaller scale, Pink Moody Blues™ Veronica produces similar flower spikes rich in nectar. A gold-toned swallowtail butterfly sipping nectar from agapanthus is picture-worthy. You will delight in watching butterflies land on the bold blossoms of Little Blue Fountain™ Agapanthus. Also include flowering shrubs such as Confetti® Abelia and Little Bonnie™ Dwarf Spiraea to provide butterflies with shelter as well as nectar-rich blooms.