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Container Gardens for Butterflies and Hummingbirds

Summer is here, and so are the hummingbirds and butterflies we love to enjoy in our gardens. Even with a small space you can plant blooms in containers to encourage local butterflies and hummingbirds to stop in for a visit. 

For more information on pollinators:

In this post, we will primarily discuss summer plants for pollinators that grow well in containers. If you want to learn more about supporting local birds, bees and butterflies, you may be interested in our posts on hosting native caterpillars, planting for pollinators year-round, or attracting hummingbirds.

This purple pollinator container garden features petunias, angelonia, ageratum and gomphrena (design by Peg Bier, Merrifield Plant and Design Specialist).

Selecting Plants for Your Container Garden

Butterflies and hummingbirds both eat nectar from flowers. Both hummingbirds and butterflies will be attracted to brightly colored flowers whose nectar has a high sugar content.

Butterflies prefer blooms with flat landing pads where they can easily land to sip nectar. Hummingbirds prefer blooms that are accessible by their long beak while still in flight. Every gardener will have their own favorites and plants that they swear by, but here are some popular favorites we all agree on for the summer:

Perennials

  • Agastache
  • Asclepias (Butterfly Weed)
  • Coneflower
  • Coreopsis
  • Gaillardia
  • Gaura
  • Heuchera

Annuals

  • Angelonia
  • Begonia
  • Calibrachoa
  • Crossandra
  • Cuphea
  • Dahlia
  • Fuschia
  • Gomphrena
  • Lantana
  • Pentas
  • Petunia
  • Salvia
  • Zinna

There are many plants to choose from, but you may find that your local hummingbirds and butterflies prefer certain types of flowers.

This pollinator container garden features salvia, angelonia and lantana (design by Peg Bier, Merrifield Plant and Design Specialist).

Container Combinations

When creating a pollinator container, your creativity is just about your only limit. While you will want to use mostly pollinator plants, it is perfectly fine to combine other plants you love into your containers as well. Here are some ideas to get you started!

Fresh Pink and White

This combination of pink and white flowers looks natural while maintaining a curated color combination of pink and white blooms. This fresh, vibrant container combines perennial coneflower and heuchera with annual lantana, angelonia and pentas.

Vibrant Red and Yellow

This container makes use of deep burgundy coleus to bring together the vibrant red and yellow blooms. For this combination, you will need perennial coreopsis and euphorbia with annual dahlia and coleus.

Bold Multicolor

This bright, bold container includes salvia, crossandra, gomphrena, cleome and portulaca.

ISTOCK, Hummingbird, Cardinal Flower

Attract Hummingbirds to Your Backyard

Terry Hershberger, Merrifield Plant Specialist

Every spring I look forward to the arrival of hummingbirds in my garden. These agile birds use their wings (which beat between 70 to 200 times per second) to hover in place, fly backwards, and even fly upside down! Not only are these amazing creatures fun to watch, they also make excellent pollinators, visiting as many as 1,000 to 2,000 flowers each day to make up for the energy they expend performing their aerial acrobatics. Here in Virginia we most often see the Ruby Throated Hummingbird. The males in this breed are instantly recognizable by their bright red throats.

You can easily create a sanctuary for these incredible birds at your own home with bright flowers, a supplemental nectar feeder and a hummingbird friendly water source.

Bright Flowers

Catch the eye of local hummingbirds with brightly colored flowers. Some sources say that hummingbirds are particularly attracted to red, I find that the color does not matter as much as the sugar content of the flower’s nectar (ideally 10 to 11%). Tubular or elongated flowers are best suited to the shape of hummingbird tongue, which folds to form a straw. I plant a variety of flowering plants to attract birds throughout the spring and summer.

Perennials

Bee balm: Blooming in mid to late summer, beebalm’s tubular flowers make the perfect addition to a hummingbird garden. Try the Jacob’s Cline variety for a native plant option.

Native cardinal flower: Due to the shape of this vibrant red flower, most insects are not able to feed from this plant, making it the perfect option for people seeking to attract hummingbirds but keep away other critters.

Annuals and Bulbs

Gladiolus: These showy bulbs produce tall spikes of flowers in an array of vibrant colors. Plant these bulbs after the danger of frost has passed in spring and you can expect flowers in the summer.

Gartenmeister fuchsia: This plant grows in full or partial shade and is an excellent addition to any hummingbird garden with orange, tubular flowers.

Vines

Honeysuckle: Grow this flowering vine on a fence or trellis for blooms that you can enjoy during spring and summer.

Trumpet vine: The yellow, orange, or red flowers of the trumpet vine make it a cheerful addition to a hummingbird garden! These vines grow very quickly and will need pruning. Blooms from summer to fall.

Supplemental Food Source

Hummingbirds need to eat every 10 to 15 minutes, every day to sustain their energy. They supplement their diets with food from a nectar feeder. Hang one at your home to provide them with an extra food source. You can purchase food for the feeder or make your own.

To make your own hummingbird food, boil four parts water and mix in one part white granulated cane sugar. Do not use brown sugar or honey as they can both harm the birds. It is very important to clean the feeder with hot water or a vinegar solution at least once per week as the sugar can ferment and spoil. If the weather is particularly hot, consider cleaning the feeder every 3 to 4 days to keep any visitors safe. Hang your feeder in the shade to preserve the sugar solution. Hummingbirds will continue to visit your feeder until they migrate south in the fall. You can take your feeder down in the middle of September if you are concerned that it might be causing any birds to linger too long.

If you need to protect your feeder from uninvited guests like ants and bees, try using ant guard or Tanglefoot Insect Barrier to protect the feeder by applying it in a small strip where the hummingbirds do not land. The base of the shepherd’s hook where your feeder hangs is a good locations. Consider adding bee guards if bees start snacking at the feeder, as a bee sting can cause serious harm to a tiny hummingbird.

Water

A bird bath is not the best option for hummingbirds since most are too deep. A drip fountain or misting device is a great alternative that they can easily access. You can also run a sprinkler in your yard, and the birds will fly through it to catch the water droplets.

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