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Cannon: Bring the birds and butterflies to your yard

POSTED: May 4, 2012 1:30 a.m.

Hummingbird havens and butterfly magnets are good words to describe a backyard designed around attracting these wonderful creatures.

If an array of flowering plants are provided in the garden, one will probably see a ruby-throated hummingbird zipping around, along with monarch butterflies emerging somewhere around mid- summer nestled on nectar rich plants.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are our smallest birds measuring about 3 inches long, It uses its long, forked tongue to lap up nectar or sugar water at a rate of 15 times per second.

Hummingbirds can fly forward, backward or even upside down and hover in midair in one place. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only hummingbird known to nest in the Southeast, where they lay their eggs, and migrate between the eastern half of the U.S. and Canada and then spend their winters in Mexico.

Hummingbirds are extremely curious birds and providing the opportunity, they will feed and get energy from a variety of flowers containing nectar. Many of the flowers that attract these birds are red, orange and pink in color.

The vibrant color of a plant is the allure to the birds, not the fragrance. Most of the hummingbird flowers are tubular shaped and fragrance free.

A successful backyard haven for hummingbirds contains a variety of flowering plants including tall and medium trees, shrubs, vines, perennial and annual flowers.

Flowers provide food, while trees and shrubs provide nesting and shelter. Flowering vines nestled on an arbor or gateway is an attractive way to entice these lovely birds.

To attract hummingbirds, plant several of the same kind of long-blooming flowers in groupings instead of scattering them around for a continuous source of nectar. Hang feeders around in the same areas and fill them with sugar water.

Attract hummingbirds with an array of flowering plants such as petunias, zinnia, foxglove, salvia, pineapple, blue and Mexican sage, Native Columbine and verbena.

Examples of trees and shrubs hummingbirds love are red buckeye, tulip poplar, azalea, abelia and hibiscus. Vines that attract hummingbirds are trumpet vine creeper, cross vine, cardinal flower and trumpet honeysuckle.

Did you know that butterflies and native flowering plants depend on each other for survival and reproduction? Planting native plants from our region is important because they provide butterflies with the nectar and foliage they need as caterpillars and adults.

A good example of a native host plant is the many species of milkweed that attracts the monarch butterfly. Plant a few of these garden-worthy plants in a sunny location and watch for caterpillars to appear on them somewhere in mid summer.

Swallowtail butterflies eat plants such as parsley and dill and are also attracted to native willow and cherry trees. Other examples are butterfly bush, vitex (chaste tree) and flowers such as black-eyed Susan, sunflowers, coreopsis and verbena.

Butterflies are attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink and purple blossoms that are flat topped or clustered and have short flower tubes, which allows the butterflies to reach the nectar with their proboscis.

Butterflies also need sun for orientation and to warm their wings for flight. Place flat stones around your garden for the butterflies to rest and warm in the sun. Place some moist sand in a shallow pan for puddling. This will give the butterfly a place to congregate and drink water.

Hummingbird and butterfly habitats can create an interesting backyard home for wildlife. With just the addition of a few vivid colorful plants, a backyard, schoolyard, workplace or community can be filled with these wonderful creatures for us to appreciate during the summer months.

If you want a complete list of flowers, trees and shrubs that hummingbirds and butterflies love, contact me at the extension office.

Thanks to the National Federation Guide and the National Wildlife Federation.


Wanda Cannon serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension Office. Phone: 770-535-8293. Her column appears biweekly and on



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