Suggestions on plants for a butterfly/hummingbird garden

hermie3rd(5)February 27, 2013

Hi! I have a flower bed that I am planning on turning into a butterfly/hummingbird garden. It is on the north side of our house, and on a slope. If I had to guess, I would say it is probably 10 feet wide by 15 feet long. (Although I'm horrible at estimating spaces). It is a bed my husband and I created when we moved into our house, so it's pretty much a blank canvas. So far, I've only planted 4 butterfly bushes on the side of the bed that borders the house. My hope is to hide the ugly concrete that is underneath our siding. I would like suggestions on plants (bushes, flowers, anything!) to provide the best environment for butterflies and hummingbirds to come to.

Thank you!

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Oops - I forgot to mention that I have a 6 foot privacy fence bordering one side of the bed, so anything that climbs would work too. I would prefer for it not to be too invasive though, because our vegetable garden is on the other side of the fence. :)

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 11:02AM
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You're on the right track c the Butterfly Bushes.
Other nectar sources include Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa), Veronica, Liatris,
Zinnias and Verbena (Vervain)
Host plants include:
Butterfly Weed, Marsh Milkweed (Monarch), Pussytoes (Antennaria spp), Everlasting (anaphalis spp.), for the American Lady, Fennel (Black Swallowtail) and Nettles, yes Nettles for Milbert's Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Angelwings.
I'm almost thinking Hops for the fence but that's kind of aggressive.
Hollyhocks and Globe Thistle for the Painted Lady.
You might want to plant your host plants out of view, or in amongst your veggies to hide eaten foliage. The cats won't harm your veggies; they will stay on their host plants only.
Plant your Nectar plants in full view, as this is where the butterflies and hummers come to feed.
Trees you can plant in your yard include Black Cherry and Tulip Poplar.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 1:38PM
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PS: Hummers love Salvia of just about any variety!!

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 1:39PM
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Thank you! Those are all great suggestions - I will start scoping them out and making my list! :)

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 5:16PM
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mary_littlerockar(8a-7b mid Arkansas)

Your butterfly bushes will attract butterflies and is an excellent choice for your butterfly garden.

You've received some excellent suggestions. If your planting area gets at least 6 hours of sun, I'd suggest three easy to grow plants that are very adaptable to a slope:

Texas Sage - Lady in Red (Salvia coccinea) - nectar

âÂÂLady in Red' is a terrific cultivar of Texas Sage, a wildflower whose native range includes the southern United States. This showy beauty is a bit more compact than the species, growing about 12 to18 inches tall with deep green foliage. Blooming from early summer until frost, âÂÂLady in Red' produces dozens of long, airy spikes packed with bright red flowers. Those brilliant flowers make âÂÂLady in Red' a sure hummingbird magnet, whether planted in the garden or in patio containers. In my area, butterflies also use it.

Vibrant spikes of red color will cover Salvia coccinea 'Lady in Red'. Open and airy, with bright red, 6-8" spikes. Sow seeds indoors 8 weeks before last frost. All-America Winner. This would be treated as an annual in your area but it will politely reseed itself each year.

Dwarf Cosmos - they will do well on a slope - nectar

Asclepias tuberosa - native Butterfly Weed - don't know if this will be a perennial in your area but it is hardy in it's growing zone and does very well on a slope. - host for Monarch butterlies and nectar for many flying things

I'd also suggest Lantana, which is a butterfly magnate here and does very well on a slope, but I believe it would be an annual in your area.

It will be such fun to watch for all the little living things that will visit your butterfly garden.


    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 6:39PM
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Thank you Mary! Also great suggestions! The whole slope thing is freaking me out a little, but I think these plants will work. I do believe Butterfly Weed is a perennial in Michigan, and I'm okay planting some annuals to change the bed up a bit each year.

I'm hoping my three year old daughter will enjoy watching the butterflies and hummingbirds come to the garden. I've always put out hummingbird feeders, and she was so excited to see the hummingbirds come to them last summer.

Again, thanks! :)

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 8:22PM
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butterflymomok(7a NE OK)

Include some asters in your garden for fall beauty and butterflies. My favorites are the New England varieties, including Alma Potschke, and Aster oblongfolius, a hardy native midwest variety. Aster oblongfolius is like a butterfly buffet right before fall migration. The favorite butterfly bushes are Honeycomb and Bicolor. I'm including a link to my garden in 2010. If you click on a picture, it will tell you the name of the plant and the butterfly.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sandy's Garden

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 9:35AM
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Aster also is the host plant to the Pearly Crescent.
You might also try Agastache Hummingbird Mint and Agastache
Anise Hyssop for the butterflies and hummers...

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 11:28AM
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madabouteu(8A - central Alabama)

For your fence - try cypress vine. The red flowers attract both hummers and sulphur butterflies. It is an annual but reseeds faithfully. Asarina is also recommended - I am trying it this year for the first time. Buckeye cats should feed on it.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 9:11PM
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Great! Thank you all! Once I get everything planted and it is established I'll post pictures. Please, keep suggestions coming! :)

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 7:20AM
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Tony G(5a)

Hermie, if you are in zone 5, I wouldn't get too many late blooming asters...most of the butterflies will be gone when they're blooming.

Try the earlier blooming stokes aster instead. Butterfly weed is a hardy perennial for your zone, but it gets very mixed reviews so make sure to try some other varieties too. My number one hummingbird plant is agastache 'ava' with black & blue salvia another popular choice. Once the hummers stop in, they seem to feed on everything! Good luck with your garden, Tony

    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 10:26PM
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Thanks Tony, I haven't had any experience with asters, so I will make sure I get ones that bloom early. Also, I've heard many good things about butterfly weed, so I will definitely add at least one of those to my space. My in-laws have a lot of salvia, but I'm not sure what type. I'll raid their collection, then add your suggestion to it if it isn't what they have.

We normally have at least 4 hummers who come to our feeders every year. I've noticed they do really stop at everything - our hosta flowers, my fuchsia plant, etc. I'm excited to provide more of a habitat for both them and butterflies.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 7:54PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH


I would not tell you anything good about butterfly weed. Was a waste of space when I used to grow it.

As Tony said, it gets mixed reviews. Plant a few and see how it does for you. Hopefully you will have good luck. And hopefully spring will show up soon.


    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 3:30PM
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I've had great success c Butterfly Weed; it is just a little tricky to grow and doesn't take to transplanting.
Also, don't plant it deep or over mulch.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 12:14PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

I should have been more specific. I had no problem growing it. Had a big stand of it. Problem was nothing used it. Never saw monarchs give it a look. Never found monarch eggs or cats on it. Never saw butterflies use it for nectar. OTOH, the common milkweed got all kinds of business.

There is a pre-school where I do presentations. The only milkweed they had was butterfly weed. They never got monarchs either even though there was no milkweed competition and they had a nice butterfly garden.

Mixed reviews comes from some people do have success getting monarchs to lay eggs on their butterfly weed.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 1:23PM
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Hmmm... That Is strange. I get all kinds of visitors. Their fave is still the Marsh Milkweed, though.(Asclepias incarnata).
Monarchs fall to Liatris during migration to fuel up their long flight South. They also like Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) and Zinnias.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 4:21PM
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My most highly recommended plant is pentas- butterfly magnet! I will never not have them in my yard. Some of the newer varieties don't have as much nectar but I only buy the ones that have bees and butterflies flying all around them at the nursery. I wouldn't buy if they don't.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 7:46PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

This is something on butterfly weed that bananasinohio posted in 2009. She reads a lot of the research that is going on in the plant and animal world. This is some of the info that she shared with us. Somehow, I think I missed reading this when she posted it:

"A. tuberosa (butterfly weed) has very low moisture levels, which does not allow the uptake of nitrogen. This means it takes much longer for the caterpillar to grow. Caterpillars feeding on A. tuberosa need to eat almost twice as many plant calories to equal the same number of A. curassavica (tropical, mexican, bloodflower) or A. incarnata plant calories (does that make sense?). They basically have to eat twice as much of A. tuberosa."

Anyway, just another reason not to depend on butterfly weed for raising monarch caterpillars.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2013 at 12:42PM
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I have ample A. incarnata and some A. purpurea on hand just in case...
Also, I plan on planting some A. syriaca along the periphery and in my "Weed Bed".
I'll keep the A. tuberosa front and center as nectar plants and "work" the others.
I don't plan on growing A. curassavica as I've read bad things about it on this forum.
Others I plan on experimenting with this year include A. exaltata aka Poke Milkweed and A. physocarpa Oscar aka "Hairy Balls".
Milkweed, Milkweed, Milkweed!!

    Bookmark   March 31, 2013 at 1:18PM
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Don't forget the caterpillar food. Easy choices (which are also useful in your kitchen) are fennel, parsley, and dill. I've always heard that fennel pulls nutrients from other plants, so keep that somewhat apart or in containers, but the parsleys and dills can be put wherever you want.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2013 at 2:40PM
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Dill also reseeds every year as an annual here.
Fennel is still their fave, though.
See other "cat" food items listed earlier in this thread.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2013 at 3:55PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

People who garden in different areas of the country will find the butterflies are interested in different plants at various times and in different plants from one year to another. I also think it takes a year or more for the butterflies to find your garden and learn that it is a reliable spot to visit in their quest for food and egg-laying/host plants. I've had my best luck with A. Incarnata, especially the new seedlings and young sprouts. I think the smaller plants are safer from predators due to the lack of blooms. But, my sister lives about 70 miles from me and I found her A. Tuberosa covered in Monarch caterpillars. Now, she didn't have other milkweeds for the Monarchs to choose from, while I had lots of both those two. My garden, with milkweed and lots of nectar plants, had also been established for two or three years, while hers was just getting started. I've found the best thing to do is to provide as great a diversity of plants as possible. Hopefully, if there is something available that they need whenever they show up, they'll return often and have a greater chance at survival. If the weather one year offers some plants an advantage over others, a diverse garden is more likely to have at least something that has survived than a garden with fewer choices. And remember, nature is not in a hurry. It may take several years to put together a really richly varied and constantly blooming butterfly garden. So, be patient and know that every single plant you add will provide benefit to some creature. Happy gardening.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 10:08PM
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koszta_kid(Iowazone 5)

I also would add Kiss Me Over Garden Gate.And I make sure our milkweed is not sprayed in back or mowed down. Got couple acres.I also plant dill in garden.
Bird bath with rocks in it. They can sit on rocks and drink.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 8:02AM
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Here we have A. incarnata, A. purpurea and A. syriaca which perform best, with A. tuberosa coming in about fourth in preference.
Syriaca is perhaps the best option here in the Midwest, but it doesn't have much eye appeal.
My personal fave for both host and nectar source for using "on the job" is A. incarnata Ice Ballet, an elegant white form of the Marsh Milkweed, or Cinderella.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 9:25AM
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mary_littlerockar(8a-7b mid Arkansas)

I grow A incarnata "Ice Ballet", too. In fact, it is just now beginning to put up little nubbins of growth ... I'm hoping to see blooms this season. It is a beautiful plant until mid summer, when the high humidity and heat seems to take a toll, causing all of my A incarnata to look tacky.

If anyone growing the A incarnata in my neck of the woods has any suggestions for maintaining these plants beyond mid summer, please share.


    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 10:01AM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

I've grown A. Incarnata for many years and find it looks best when it doesn't have to put up with hot afternoon sun. I never planned it that way, but my recent gardens have had limited sun. So, my butterfly garden got mostly early sun and was shaded mid day until after 5 pm. I also had clay soil which kept the roots moist. And I always mulch heavily with bagged autumn leaves that I find sitting by the road. Hope that helps. You could also plant some other plants around the incarnata to hide the lower stems, since they can start to look leggy. Maybe annual dill for the swallowtail butterflies? Or zinnias for nectar, since the incarnata tends to blossom early. I also try to remove the flower heads once they lose the blooms. That way they don't put too much energy toward seed producing. Two or three seed pods are plenty to provide seeds to share and increase my garden population of A. Incarnata.

Good luck,

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 12:26PM
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Thanks all!! It's been a couple of weeks since I checked back in, and I couldn't believe all the feedback!

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 2:31PM
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