Posts

Pollinator Garden

Gardening for the Birds, Bees, and Butterflies

Who among us does not enjoy birds, bees and butterflies? By creating plantings that replace even small segments of these beautiful creatures’ diminishing habitats, we can contribute to their preservation. I personally had the opportunity to do this when a retention pond was built on the property bordering mine. The large slope between my garden and the retention pond receives 5-8 hours of sunshine daily, and is the perfect place for a sunny garden devoted to birds, bees and butterflies! Now that it is established, not only do the pollinators enjoy it – my family, friends and neighbors do as well!

Pollinator Garden, Rudbeckia, Echibeckia

Soil Preparation

I was determined to grow lavender at the top of my sloped butterfly garden, so I began my project by amending the top 3-4 ft. of the slope with course sand and perma-til and composted leaves to create good drainage. I mulch my lavender plants as well as the bearded German iris, asclepias and santolina with small gravel. All of these plants require very well-draining soil to thrive. To prepare the soil for the rest of my garden, I worked composted leaves into the clay soil to create better soil conditions for plants to grow.

Pollinator Garden

Seeding and Reseeding Annuals and Biennials

Many hardy annuals and biennials contribute heavily to a pollinator garden. I plant, seed others each year and allow some of the hardiest to reseed themselves. For plants that I allow to reseed, I mulch only very lightly after those plants begin to grow in spring in any areas where I want them to reseed. To lend a helping hand to their growth, I spread additional seed in August and September. Most of these plants will appear as tiny seedlings, and bloom the next spring or summer. These plants can also be seeded in March or April, but they may not bloom the first season. My favorite plants to seed in late summer or early spring are:

  • Bachelor’s Button
  • Cleome
  • Foxglove
  • Larkspur
  • Nigella
  • Parsley
  • Poppy
  • Rudbeckia hirta
  • Feverfew
  • Verbena bonariensis
  • Viola

For any seeds that cannot take the cold and frost, I direct seed after the danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed. At this time, I also transplant any plants that I purchased, or started from seed indoors. Some of my favorite plants to seed after the danger of frost has passed are:

  • Amaranth globe
  • Calendula
  • Celosia
  • Cosmos
  • Dill
  • Zinnias
Zinnia, Celosia, Pollinator Garden

Seeds for the Birds

I remove spent flowers (deadheading) on some plants to encourage rebloom over the spring and summer, but as fall approaches I stop doing this in order to leave seeds for the birds through the winter. Providing food for the birds during this season when resources are scarce is vital to their health, and allows me to support our native bird population. While I clean up other areas of my garden for the winter, I do not give my bird, bee and butterfly garden it’s fall cleanup until February or March, just in time for spring. This leaves the garden looking a little messy through the winter months, but makes it a haven for wildlife by providing pollinator and seed plants over as long a period as possible. I personally find it quite pleasing to the eye!

Coneflower, Perennial, Native

My Favorite Plants for Pollinator Gardens

The plants I discussed here are only a small portion of plants that make an excellent addition to butterfly gardens!

For more information, check out this pollinator garden plant list I created for anyone looking to start a bird, bee and butterfly garden.

Three Tips to Attract Pollinators to your Garden

Larry Shapira, Merrifield Plant Specialist & Professor Emeritus NVCC

Gardening connects us to nature and gives us an opportunity to enjoy and experience America’s number one hobby. With the right plant selections, you can attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators for the duration of the growing season.

Here are three tips to attract pollinators

  1. Select a diversity of plants that have a variety of flower shapes, colors and sizes
  2. Choose plants that flower at different times to provide pollen or nectar for the entire growing season
  3. Plant in clumps rather than single plants to better attract pollinators

A few of my favorite pollinators are:

Butterfly bush (Buddleia): A.K.A. Summer Lilac. Hardy, vigorous shrub for sunny locations. Fast grower. Blooms mid-summer. Pink, white, lilac, blue, or purple flowers

Lantana  Grows as a summer annual. Blooms all summer; many varieties, often bi-colored. Very attractive to hummingbirds. Full sun.

Coneflower (Echinacea). Easy-to-grow perennial that grows in clumps. Showy flowers are white, crimson, or purple. New introductions include yellows and oranges. Summer blooming.

Aster (Aster x frikartii). Widely-adapted perennial that blooms late summer. Prolific bloomer with lavender to blue-violet flowers. Full sun.

Bee Balm (Monarda). A reliable, old-fashioned, summer-blooming perennial. Flowers range from scarlet to white or pink. Very showy.

Finally, not only is planting to attract pollinators a great way to assist nature, it is also a fun way to get children involved in gardening!

Coneflower and Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Plant List for Butterfly Gardens

Flitting from flower to flower in search of nectar, butterflies are absolutely wonderful in the garden.

Unfortunately, because of the loss of habitat and the indiscriminate use of pesticides, the butterfly population is declining.

But with just a little bit of effort, you can encourage more of these delicate beauties to visit your garden – and extend their stay.

Choose a sunny location protected from wind. As butterflies are near-sighted, it’s best to create a large patch of flower species boasting vibrant colors and sweet scents. Select plants of differing heights, colors and bloom times to attract butterflies throughout the season.

Butterflies enjoy sweet liquids, such as nectar from flowers, which supplies them with an energy source.  Annuals provide nectar all summer, while perennials provide it when they’re blooming.

As you might expect, Butterfly Bush and Butterfly Weed are great plants to attract butterflies. But they’re not the only ones. Here are some other plants that butterflies truly love:  Astilbe, Black-Eyed Susan, Catmint, Coneflower, Daylily, Salvia, Tickseed and Yarrow.

In addition to growing a butterfly friendly habitat, make caterpillars welcome in your garden. True, caterpillars feed on plants. But without caterpillars there would be no beautiful butterflies. Watching a caterpillar change into a butterfly is one of the most fascinating things about butterfly gardens.

Caterpillars can be very discriminating in the plants they feed on.  Pipevine Swallowtail feed exclusively on Pipevine, Monarchs on Milkweed and Fritillary on Violas. So if you want to watch these butterflies, select plants for both the larvae and adults.

Annuals

Common Name Botanical Name
Cosmos Cosmos
Flowering Tobacco Nicotiana
French Marigold Tagetes
Heliotrope Heliotropium
Hardy Hibiscus Hibiscus
Lantana Lantana
Mimulus Mimulus
Petunia Petunia
Salvia Salvia
Snapdragon Antirrhinum
Sunflower Helianthus
Verbena Verbena
Violet Violet
Zinnia Zinnia

Perennials

Common Name Botanical Name
Anemone Anemone
Aster Aster
Astilbe Astilbe
Beardstongue Penstemon
Bee Balm Monarda
Bellflower Campanula
Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia
Blanket Flower Gaillardia
Bleeding Heart Dicentra
Blue Beard Caryopteris
Butterfly Bush Buddleia
Butterfly Weed Asclepias
Candytuft Iberis
Cardinal Flower Lobelia
Catmint Nepeta
Cinquefoil Pontentilla
Cornflower Centaurea
Creeping & Summer Phlox Phlox
Dame’s Rocket Hesperis
Daylily Hemerocalilis
Foxglove Digitalis
Globe Thistle Echinops
Goldenrod Solidago
Hardy Geranium Geranium
Hardy Mem Chrysanthemum
Hollyhock Alcea
Iris Iris
Joe Pye Weed Eupatorium
Lavender Lavandula
Lily Lillium
Onion Allium
Pincushion Flower Scabiosa
Plumbago Ceratostigma
Red Hot Poker Kniphofia
Rockcress Arabis
Rosemary Rosemarinus
Salvia Salvia
Speedwell Veronica
Stoke’s Aster Stokesia
Stonecrop Sedum
Sundrops Oenothera
Sunflower Helianthus
Tickseed Chelone
Verbena Verbena
Whorling Butterflies Gaura
Wormwood Artemesia
Yarrow Achillea

Trees

Common Name Botanical Name
Chaste Tree Vitex
Cherry Prunus
Crabapple Malus
Fringtree Chionanthus
Golden Rain Tree Laburnum
Silk Tree Mimosa
Yellowood Cladrastis

Vines

Common Name Botanical Name
Clematis Clematis
Dragon Lady Crossvine Bigonia
Hardy Passion Vine Passiflora
Honeysuckle Lonicera
Morning Glory Ipomoea
Trumpet Creeper Campsis
Wisteria Wisteria