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Garden Help Desk: Making a garden that attracts butterflies, hummingbirds

By USU Extension - | May 21, 2022

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

The tubular bases on phlox blossoms provide hungry butterflies a little well of nectar.

My garden goals are to have gardens that attract native butterflies and hummingbirds to feed and breed and nest, contain only perennial herbaceous plants, and have plants blooming at all times from Late February into November. I just have a few questions about how to make this happen.

1. Does my yard sketch look like I am trying to pack too many types of flowers into the beds?

2. Can I plant seeds instead of plants and be reasonably successful? Where can I buy seeds for pollinator plants and native plants?

3. Do you have any suggestions? Any thoughts you have that I haven’t asked about?

I am very intrigued by your aspirations! I can see you’ve been putting a lot of thought and research into your pollinator-friendly garden. I haven’t had a lot of personal experience with every plant on your list, but I can tell you what I do know.

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

Most of our favorite sunflowers aren't perennial, but they are a popular food source for bees and will reseed freely. Plant annual sunflowers once and you may get seedlings for several years.

1. I don’t think you are trying to pack too many flowers into your beds. You can verify this by drawing your yard to scale. Include any existing plants, also drawn to scale. Then add your additional plants, drawn to scale. You’ll be able to see if you have room for all the varieties on your list. It’s best to plant 3 or more of each type for two reasons. First, it ensures that you will have survivors if one of the plants dies. Second, it will be more pleasing to the eye if you repeat plants in the landscape rather than have only one of each type.

2. I haven’t grown many of these plants myself, so I can’t advise on the success of seed germination for most of them. However, I do find that Blue flax, Desert globe mallow, Black-eyed Susan, Blanket flower and Sunflowers usually germinate reliably and readily reseed. I think that you’ll find the most success with these plants. There are several online seed companies that sell these seeds.

3. I noticed in your landscape plan drawing that you have a few trees on your property. I’m glad to see it- hummingbirds will appreciate a place to perch and on which to build nests. A landscape of only herbaceous perennials would deprive them of this refuge.

Other plants you may want to include in your native, pollinator friendly garden are Desert Four O’clock (Mirablis multiflora), Penstemons, and common yarrow (Achillia millifolium). Also take a look at Bee balm, Garden phlox (Phlox paniculate) or one of the agastache species (hummingbird mints).

Besides providing plenty of food sources for local pollinators, you can make your landscape more pollinator friendly by adding water sources. Hummingbirds, moths, and butterflies can get all the water they need from the nectar or other food sources they find, but other birds and bees will benefit from having reliable access to water. Bees can’t swim, so set out a small, shallow tray or saucer of water, filled with enough marbles or pebbles to provide a way for bees to stand safely just above the water while they drink. The “watering station” should be secured in a location where it will be stable and out of reach of pets. A birdbath will provide visiting birds with a place to splash and drink. Of course, you should make sure your water sources never run dry.

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

This dense cluster of mature whitetop can produce millions of seeds, but even before dropping seeds these weeds are spreading by rhizomes and sending up new shoots.

I have a lot of whitetop weeds growing in my front yard in the grass and they have spread the last few years. Mowing isn’t stopping them. I read that 2,4-D should help if I spray before they flower, but the weeds are flowering right now and I read that once they flower 2,4-D doesn’t do anything. Besides mowing is there anything I can do right now?

White top is a tough weed. Expect to spend more than one season dealing with this. For now, give your lawn good care by mowing taller, watering deeply but infrequently and apply adequate nitrogen to keep it dense, healthy and competitive with the weeds. Also keep the whitetop mowed. If you see any regrowth and new flower buds, get them sprayed, but avoid spraying on days when the temperatures exceed about 80 degrees.

A product that combines 2,4-D and Dicamba should be more effective than 2,4-D alone. Watch the weeds, as you may see some at the rosette stage in the fall, and that is a good time to spray them. Next spring, include a pre-emergent herbicide in your spring lawn care as well as spraying the weeds that are already there.


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