If you grow a garden, you probably like seeing butterflies, bees and birds (the three "B's") flitting among the flowers.
They aren't just pretty and fun to watch. They are also important to your plants (and everyone else's too!)
And since it's spring, it's the perfect time to plan on attracting these wonderful creatures to your garden. Here is how you can do just that!
Some Facts About the Birds and The Bees (And the Bugs)
Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies are all "pollinators". They carry pollen from one plant to another. This is what helps flowers bloom and produce fruits, nuts, and vegetables.
The Pollinators (I'm going to capitalize that because it makes them sound like a team of badass gardening superheroes) also help to transfer seeds from one place to another.
This is why you may notice last years annuals and perennials sprouting in places far away from their original locations.
- The Pollinators are responsible for 150 food crops in the US.
- There are more than 250, 000 recognized flowering species --pollinators are responsible for reproduction in over 90% of these.
- They contribute to everything from the food we eat to the medicine we need.
- Without pollinators, there would be little to no agriculture.
- Pollinators contribute to a healthy ecosystem by ensuring that native flowers continue to grow and support wildlife
Human intervention has caused a decline in the natural number of pollinators. This is a direct threat not only to your garden, but to your well-being as a human.
More and more gardeners are choosing to include flowers to attract pollinators, leaving certain weeds in place, and avoiding harmful chemicals.
You can help too! Include some friendly plants in your garden to attract the "three B's." (as well as some of their equally important friends.)
Flowers to Attract Hummingbirds
Plenty of yards have hummingbird feeders to attract these vibrant, delicate creatures.
Whereas this is a great way to attract them, it may not be beneficial to the ecosystem. Hummingbirds will fill up on the nectar you provide, and ignore the flowers.
It is okay to have nectar feeders, especially to attract the birds before your flowers bloom, but you may want to limit the number of feeders so that birds are encouraged to 'sip' at the blooms too.
Hummingbirds are attracted primarily to red, but will also come to purple and orange flowers too. They like tubular, sweet flowers. Some great hummingbird flowers include:
- Bee Balm
- Rose of Sharon
- Butterfly Bush
- Oriental Poppies
- Coral Bells
What We Do: Hang the usual bright red hummingbird feeder in the flower beds before the flowers bloom.
Once the flowers have bloomed out, we add less coloring to the nectar so that it is not as bright and attractive as the blossoms.
We also make sure to have a lot of red, orange and strong pink flowers in that area.
We leave the feeder because our summers are prone to long spells of drought. The feeders provide liquid for many creatures when water and sometimes food is scarce.
You could also use red garden decorations to attract them to your flowers rather than feeders.
Attracting Bees to the Garden
An unfortunate misconception made by many people is that honeybees are the only "good" bees. All bees contribute to the health and reproduction of flowers.
Honey bees get all the glory because they also produce something humans like to eat. (So unfair to the other bees, huh?)
Don't be discouraged if the only bees you see in your flower bed are bumble bees. They are pollinators too.
Unlike hummingbirds, bees like pollen as well as nectar. Think of the nectar as the bees "carb" fix, and the pollen as their "protein shake".
Bees use a lot of energy and need plenty of sustenance. To keep bees in your garden longer, stagger your planting times so that flowers are available all season.
You can also plan for flowers that bloom longer, as well as plants that bloom in different months. This will keep your garden looking full and pretty too!
Here are some favorite bee plants. Always try to include a few native plants that may be specific attractants for local bees.
- Purple Coneflower (echinacea)
- Butterfly weed
- Black-eyed Susan
- Evening Primrose,
- Fruit and vegetable plants
- Bee Balm
Dandelions (as much as you may dislike them) are very important to bees. In most places, dandelions are the first plant to bloom, sometimes even as early as February when a few warm days appear.
Because they appear so early, they provide much needed food for bees that have been slowly depleting their food stores over the winter.
What We Do: We hang out our hummingbird feeder early in the year to provide a boost for the first hungry bees that appear.
We also make sure the dandelions are left untouched, and we never use any sort of chemicals on or near them.
We have a spacious two acres in the country, and I like to see the bright speckles of yellow dandelions after months of brown nothing-ness as much as the bees do!
We also nurture and encourage clover patches to grow, and keep some "no-mow" areas near the edge of our property so the blooms don't get clipped.
And of course, we plant bee-friendly flowers in all the flowerbeds, and leave water trays where they can be accessed safely. (Away from the house, since my husband is allergic.)
Soon, I plan to have a corner with a few bee hives in place, so having all those great plants established ahead of time means less work in the future!
Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden
Considered by many to be the most attractive of the pollinators, butterflies are easy to please in the food department.
Like hummingbirds, they depend primarily on nectar. Some butterflies also like the occasional sip of water.
Unlike bees and hummingbirds, butterflies need plants for more than just nectar. They use many of the plants to host their eggs.
Most species will only lay eggs on one certain type of plant. Here are some butterfly plants;
- Queen Anne's Lace
- Bee Balm
- Butterfly weed
- Purple Coneflower
What We Do: Provide a variety of wildflower mixes for the local species of butterflies.
We also keep shallow "puddlers" or pans of water in the garden.
Butterflies are also attracted to manure (and other stinky things), so we leave our compost areas accessible.
We also leave patches of wildflowers at the edge of the property or on the roadside un-treated with any type of chemicals.
Sadly, we do have to use some chemical help in our main gardens because Oklahoma is bug and fungus nightmare zone (and most are destructive). Natural cures just cannot compete.
The butterflies seem to know which flowers are tastier and choose the flowers outside the chemical zone.
Lesser Known Pollinators
This can be because some of the other pollinators are much less attractive. Some can damage plants or be a general nuisance to humans. They are still important though!
Here are some plant pollinators you might not have been aware of:
Yes, these little pests are actually useful! Even though they have been known to munch on some plants, they play a beneficial role in the reproduction of others. They primarily pollinate short plants, such as ground covers.
Moths are just as helpful as butterflies when it comes to helping the garden. Sadly, they also damage things in your home, such as clothing. (And here, it's always a battle to keep moths out of the pantry where they destroy dried goods.)
Still, moths have their role in the ecosystem. They are attracted to plants that bloom in the late afternoons and evenings.
They are annoying, but they are part of the lifecycle of humans, plants and animals. Flies are generally attracted to shallow flowers that are pale in color (light pink, white).
You will probably never know if bats are drinking at your flowers or not. They prefer flowers that bloom in the evening and at night. They also prefer flowers that have very strong scents.
Wasps, beetles and other bird species can also play a role in pollinating and cross-pollinating plants.
(Hint: Wasps are not fun, and they love hummingbird feeders. Try hanger your feeders away from your porch and main walkways to avoid being mobbed by grumpy wasps all summer.)
It is nice to attract these creatures to your flower garden during the spring and summer.
But once they are there, it is even nicer to extend your hospitality.
There are lots of fun ways to provide them with housing, water, and additional food supplements. This keeps them from flying away to seek these luxuries in other places.
Some things you can make or place in the garden to encourage the permanent presence your new friends include:
Make Friends With Weeds and Wildflowers
Most flowers that attract pollinators are wildflowers. Lots of gardeners consider these to be "weeds" or nuisance plants.
But even weeds have a place in the garden! Some of them make excellent companion plants for vegetables and other plants.
If you don't want potentially invasive plants in your garden, consider allotting a small area away from the main part of your garden for these plants.
The birds, butterflies and bees will find them, as well as your more decorative plants, and decide your yard is their ideal summer hangout.