Planting for Birds and Butterflies
Get our list of the flowers and creature comforts winged visitors love most
Winged wildlife look for the same things in a garden that people seek in a B&B: good food and drink, a bath, and a cozy place to bed down for the night. Provide these amenities, and birds and butterflies will flock to your garden―perhaps even stay awhile.
This happened quickly for Steve and Donna Brigham, who installed a new half-acre demonstration garden for butterflies and hummingbirds at their nursery, Buena Creek Gardens. They chose nectar-rich flowering plants. And they added birdbaths, and shrubs to provide cover. The garden was barely finished before wildlife started checking in; within a few months, each day saw a full house.
To create your own backyard wildlife B&B, set out some of the plants listed below, then provide a few creature comforts.
Abutilon hybrids. Evergreen shrubs with aromatic foliage. Bell-shaped blooms of white, yellow, pink, and red peak in spring among broad, maplelike leaves. Sun; part shade in hottest climates. Sunset climate zones 8, 9, 12–24, H1, H2.
Agastache. Perennial. Whorls of pink, purple, blue, red, or orange flowers in spikelike clusters in summer. Sun or part shade. Zones vary by species.
Alstroemeria hybrids. Evergreen perennials. Pink, purple, orange, or white flowers. Peak in spring and summer.
Bee balm (Monarda didyma). Perennial. Blooms in shades of lavender, red, or pink on bushy plants in summer. Light shade in hottest climates. Zones A2, A3, 1–11, 14–17.
Bird of paradise (Caesalpinia). Evergreen or deciduous shrub or tree. Colorful blossoms of yellow or brilliant orange-red above ferny foliage in summer. Sun. Zones vary by species.
Bottlebrush (Callistemon). Large shrub or small tree. Red flowers. Peaks in spring and summer.
California fuchsia (Zauschneria). Shrubby perennial. Tubular, orange to red blooms above gray-green to silvery foliage in late summer or fall. Sun. Zones 2–11, 14–24.
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). Perennial. Spikes of flame red flowers in summer. A bog plant in nature, it needs moist soil. Full sun or part shade. Zones 1–7, 14–17.
Columbine (Aquilegia). Perennials. Lacy foliage and delicate flowers in shades of yellow, orange, blue, and red in spring and early summer. Sun or light shade. Zones vary by species.
Coral bells (Heuchera sanguinea). Perennial. Bell-shaped, bright red or coral pink flowers spring into summer. Shade. Zones A1–A3, 1–11, 14–24.
Foxglove (Digitalis). Perennials and biennials. Tubular flowers in shades of pink to apricot, yellow, and cream atop tall spikes in spring. Exposure needs vary by species. Zones vary by species.
Fuchsia. Evergreen and deciduous shrubs. Bell-shaped flowers in a range of pink to purple and orange shades, from late spring to first frost. F. triphylla ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’ has drooping clusters of intense orange, long-tubed flowers. Sun to light shade. Zones vary by species.
Kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos). Perennial. Red, yellow, or green flowers. Spring through fall.
Nicotiana. Perennials grown as annuals. White, pink, red tubular flowers. Peaks in summer and early fall.
Penstemon. Perennials. Reds and blues predominate. Spring and summer bloom, depending on species.
Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora). Perennial. Rose red to bright red flowers late spring through summer. Sun to light shade. Zones 2b, 3, 7–16, 18–24.
Salvia. Perennials and shrubs. Lots of blues and reds, plus many other colors. Spring through fall.
Veronica. Perennial. Masses of small flowers in white, rose, pink, or blue in pointy-topped spikes. Most take full sun. Zones vary by species.
Abelia. Evergreen to deciduous shrub. Small bell-shaped blossoms of pink, red, or lilac on graceful, arching branches in summer to early fall. Sun, some shade. Zones vary by species.
Aster. Many kinds and colors (mostly shades of pink to purple), with daisylike blooms. A. x frikartii is one of our favorites; it bears lilac blooms early summer to fall. Sun. Zones 2b–24.
Bluebeard (Caryopteris). Deciduous shrub. Small clusters of blue flowers from midsummer to frost. Sun. Zones vary by species.
Butterfly bush (Buddleja). Shrub. Flowers mostly in shades of purple. Peaks in summer.
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Perennial. Clusters of orange or yellow flowers in summer.
Coreopsis. Perennials and annuals. Profusion of yellow, orange, maroon, or red flowers in spring and summer, depending on species. Sun. Zones vary by species.
Goldenrod (Solidago). Perennial. Large branching clusters of small bright yellow flowers from mid- or late summer into fall. Zones 1–11, 14–23.
Jupiter’s beard (Centranthus ruber). Perennial. Flowers of deep crimson to pink and white in dense terminal clusters in late spring, early summer. Sun or partial shade. Zones 2–9, 12–24, H1.
Lantana. Shrub grown as annual in cold climates. Wide range of colors―lavender to yellow, orange, and white. Long bloom season.
Lavender (Lavandula). Evergreen shrubs. Silvery to green mounds capped with spikes of lavender to purple, pink blooms late spring and summer. Sun. Zones vary by species.
Lilac (Syringa). Deciduous shrubs. Big, flamboyant fragrant flower clusters on branch tips in spring. Light shade in hottest climates. Zones vary by species.
Pincushion flower (Scabiosa). Annuals and perennials. Blue, pink, and white flowers in spring and summer.
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Perennial. Pink, white, or orange daisy blooms in summer. Sun. Zones A2, A3, 1–24.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). Evergreen shrub. Small blue or white flowers bloom winter through spring. Sun. Zones 4–24, H1, H2.
Shasta daisy (Chrysanthemum maximum). Perennial. Gold-centered, white daisy flowers in summer. Sun. Zones A1–A3, 1–24, H1.
Verbena. Perennials often grown as annual. Purples, pinks, reds. Summer and fall bloom.
Yarrow (Achillea). Perennials. Flat-topped flower clusters in shades of yellow, white, rose, red, and salmon bloom summer and early fall. Sun. Zones A1–A3, 1–24.
Babysitting services. Provide larval-food plants for the butterflies common to your area: milkweed for monarchs, fennel for anise swallowtail, and buckwheat for hairstreaks. Add birdhouses, and set out piles of nesting material for birds: pine needles and small pieces of string.
Dust baths. Birds like their dirt dry. They ruffle their feathers in it to rid themselves of parasites. Set aside a few square feet for them, bordered with rocks or brick, and fill the area with loose, sandy soil.
Mineral water. Butterflies need minerals and salts in their diet as well as sugar. One place they get it from is mud, so give them a permanent puddle. Dig a shallow depression, line it with pebbles, and keep the soil moist.
Tanning salon. Butterflies enjoy basking in the sun. Provide some flat rocks for them in an area protected from the wind by shrubs.
Info: Buena Creek Gardens (10–4 Thu–Sun; 418 Buena Creek Rd., San Marcos, CA; 760/744-2810)