Attracting Birds and Butterflies to the Garden

attracting wildlife

Bees love Flower Carpet Amber!

Attracting birds, butterflies and bees to your garden or landscape not only adds ambiance, but also helps our environment. Gardens that are filled with birds and butterflies (even at their munching-caterpillar stage) are filled with life! Birds play an important role in the garden, eating aphids and beetles; bees are important for pollination, and the list goes on and on.

So, how to we attract nature’s beauties to our landscape? It’s simple if we follow these 3 steps:

1) Get rid of the pesticides and herbicides.

Although they may be effective in eliminating “bad bugs” or undesirable pests, they also kill off the “good bugs” and bees. By creating a habitat where beneficial insects can thrive and increase their populations, the need for pesticides will eventually diminish.

2) Create a bird and butterfly friendly habitat.

A habitat, as we learned in grammar school, is a place that provides everything one needs to survive including shelter, water, food and sunlight.

  • Shelter: trees and shrubs, deck overhangs, vines growing along a trellis or fence and bird and butterfly houses all provide shelter for wildlife. You’ll find more about shelter plants below.
attracting butterflies

Bird baths or other water features are essential for attracting butterflies and birds.

  • Water: bird baths, ponds and water features are the most common ways to provide water but even a shallow dish filled with water and placed in an accessible area can attract both birds and butterflies. Place a few rocks above the water level to give birds and butterflies a place to land.
  • Sunlight: Butterflies need the warmth sun to prepare their wings for flight and birds need it to determine their sleep, reproductive and molting cycles and ultimately their migration cycles. Fortunately, sunlight is probably the easiest achieved addition to any landscape.
Flower Carpet Scarlet in cottage garden

This little garden offers plenty of food and shelter for both pollinators

  • host plants for caterpillars

    ‘Red Butterflies’ milkweed is a good host plant for butterfly larva/caterpillars.

    Food: We’ll talk about specific bird and butterfly-attracting plants a little further on. To start with though, birds generally eat insects and seeds, so in the fall, leaving the seed ponds on plants black-eyed Susans, thistle and echinacea provides winter-long food and will help to keep the birds close by. Caterpillars and larva that ultimately turn into butterflies need plants to feed on too. So rather than having them eat plants you love, plant some “host” plants in an out-of the way place for them. The larva are a bit more choosy than adult butterflies when it comes to food. They like milkweed, ‘Husker Red’ penstimon, turtlehead, pawpaws, passion vines, passion fruit and even parsley and dill!

attracting butterflies

Volcano phlox is a favorite with Swallowtail and Monarch butterflies

3) Choose the right plants.  

This is the critical factor and the key to success. There are any number of lists of bird and butterfly-attracting plants available on the web, including a comprehensive listing on the National Wildlife Federation’s website. All you need do is refer to one of these when you’re selecting plants for your new garden (or hunting down some interesting additions to your existing landscape). It’s not hard to do; it’s just one more thing to think about when you’re making your selections.

As a starter, native plants are best for attracting native species of butterflies and birds as well, regardless of where you live. Wildlife-attracting plants that are generally grown across the US include hollyhocks, daylilies, thistle, coneflowers, bee-balm, black-eyed Susan, morning glories, hibiscus, salvias, butterflyweed (asclepias) and tickseed (coreopsis). Volcano® garden phlox which are hardy in Zones 4-10 are butterfly and hummingbird favorites, especially the bright Pink, Red and Purple varieties.

attracting butterflies

Lantana make an ideal container plant and are real butterfly favorites.

Hummingbirds and Butterflies aren't the only thing attracted to Tropicanna blossoms!

Hummingbirds and Butterflies aren’t the only thing attracted to Tropicanna blossoms!

Limited space?  Don’t despair – you can still attract birds and butterflies if you provide nectar-filled plants. Both hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink and purple blossoms. So, create container gardens using a variety of easy-care  flowering plants like lantana, salivias, gaillardia (blanket flower), bacopa, petunias, snapdragons and hibiscus. All 3 varieties of Tropicanna® cannas are great not only because of their bright orange or red blossoms but also because their exotic multi-colored striped foliage is beautiful all season long, even when the plants aren’t blooming. They’re also great in ponds or water features.

Plants that provide shelter are also crucial to attracting wildlife to the garden. Depending on the amount of space you have, adding a few trees – particularly flowering and/or fruit-bearing trees – can be extremely helpful in creating an ideal habitat for birds, butterflies, bees (and even insect-devouring bats).  No trees?  Just add a few bird houses along a fence line.

attracting butterflies

Morning glories planted thickly along fence line provide both next nectar and shelter.

Plant a honeysuckle, clematis, or trumpet vine up or even annual  morning glories over a fence and you’ll not only provide a source for nectar feeders but some safe nesting sites. You’ll also add visual interest to your landscape.

Other shelter-providing plants include flowering small trees and shrubs like weigelia, False indigo, Fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus), azaleas, and even low-growing landscape roses like Flower Carpet roses which also create shelter for birds and nectar for bees. Flower Carpet was the  first “eco-rose” introduced in the US 20 years ago. They’re particularly good for wildlife habitats because they don’t need any chemicals or pesticides to keep them blooming and performing for months on end. They’re also very easy care and don’t require any fancy pruning – just need to be cut back each spring. They come in 10 different colors and the newest varieties (Amber, Scarlet and Pink Supreme) were bred for even more heat and humidity tolerance.


attracting butterflies

Flower Carpet Appleblossom provides nectar for bees and shelter for birds.

These are incredibly simple steps that will make a profound difference to any garden and to those enjoying it. Sharing your outdoor space with other living things adds a dimension that will have you hooked before you realize it!

butterfly gardens

Beneficial bees love Flower Carpet Red!



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2 Responses to Attracting Birds and Butterflies to the Garden

  1. Jan Borchardt April 25, 2015 at 12:04 am #

    I would like to know what flowering plants are safe for pets that can be planted in pots. What are some flowering plants for butterflies and hummingbirds and safe for dogs if eaten.
    Thank you so much. I live in Wisconsin.

  2. Carol Anderson April 25, 2015 at 1:00 pm #

    Great information! My first hummingbird arrived a few days ago. Also ordered two beehives and get my first bees next month. Three years ago we had a wildfire and I’ve been reconstructing ever since that time. We live 8200ft on Buckhorn Mt in Colorado. Thanks again.

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