"Attracting Butterflies and Hummingbirds into the Garden," by the Whistling Gardener

Everyone could use more "Hot Lips" in their life.  Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Everyone could use more "Hot Lips" in their life. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Part of the joy of gardening, for me, is in watching feathered friends visit my yard and flit about the shrubs, flowers, feeders and water features. As much as I love my plants, these little creatures are an “extra treat” that makes all my hard work that much more worthwhile.

A beautiful garden with lots of blooming shrubs, annuals, perennials, and herbs is not only a feast for the eyes but is a veritable smorgasbord for the birds and the pollinators. Of course, the most colorful of those pollinators is the butterflies and the most dainty and amazing to watch of the birds is the lovable hummer.

While they may get all the attention, the fact is that anything we do to attract these specific individuals will also bring in the other birds and insects, so it is a win-win for everyone.

There are several things we all can do as gardeners to encourage birds to visit our yards.

Obviously, installing feeders is a good start but birds need more than just a feeding station to feel secure in the garden. They need places to hide from predators, a place to build a nest, sources of water, and other natural food supplies such as bugs, worms, seeds, and berries.

Creating a garden that is bird friendly is fairly simple to do. Unfortunately, if you are the type of person that likes to keep the garden super tidy and all the shrubbery neatly trimmed into little green balls that don’t touch each other, your odds of bringing birds into your yard are slim to none.

Having shrubs grow together can be a good thing. Having a large variety of plant material is another and it certainly doesn’t need to be exclusively native plants.

Letting the garden remain “messy” throughout the winter, instead of cleaning everything up at the first frost, is a good practice for keeping birds around in the winter months. Remember, bushes that aren’t pruned all the time will be more inclined to flower and produce fruit for the birds.

If this less manicured style is at odds with the spouse, do what I do and split the yard up into my space and the spouse’s space. At the very least, consider setting aside a small area in the back where you can let things become a bit on the wild side.

Avoiding the use of pesticides, whenever possible, is always a good practice. Birds eat bugs, as well as seeds that should remain pesticide free, and if you eliminate all the bugs in your garden then there will be nothing to draw the birds in. A garden full of bugs is a garden full of nutritious bird food.

Learn to live with a few bugs in your life and don’t forget that some of those bugs might also turn into beautiful butterflies. Wouldn’t you feel like a schmuck if you found out the caterpillar you just squished was the larva of a swallowtail.

Providing a source of water is important for both birds and butterflies. This could be a birdbath, fountain, or pond. My birds seem to prefer moving water and will perch on the side of my modest little fountain to both drink and bathe (hopefully they are drinking first and bathing second). As for butterflies, they prefer to have their water served in a puddle. A shallow saucer beneath a slowly dripping faucet seems to do the trick quite nicely.

As for specific plants that will attract both hummers and butterflies, virtually any flowering plant has the potential to be a food source for them. Generally speaking, flat flowers, like those in the daisy family, are easy for butterflies to land on and tubular flowers seem to be preferred by hummers.

“Double” forms of flowers may be attractive to us but are mostly useless as a food source due to the lack of nectar or pollen. Colors don’t seem to make much difference as long as they are bright and planting early, mid, and late bloomers provides a season long source of food.

In summary, like I always say, when it comes to creating a visually exciting and inviting garden for the birds and the bees, variety is the spice of life and the more diverse our plant palette is the happier everyone will be

Don’t be afraid to experiment with new and unfamiliar varieties. Plants are like furniture; you can always move them around and if you get tired of them just put them out on the curb with a “FREE” sign and they will magically disappear.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at

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