Guest column: Plants that are butterfly and hummingbird magnets

The Daily Ardmoreite
Pat Neasbitt 
Master Gardener

Butterflies add so much to our lives. Not only are these fluttering beauties gorgeous, but they help pollinate flowers and vegetables. There has been a lot in the news lately about the declining numbers of monarch butterflies. Too many pesticides and herbicides and too little habitat because of increased construction and land taken up by lawns and recreation instead of plants has made life hard for all kinds of pollinators. We can do our part to help increase butterfly, hummingbird, and pollinator populations by making our yards into a welcoming wildlife habitat.

• The first and most important thing to increase populations is to NOT use pesticides and herbicides.

• The second most important thing is to remember that Native Oklahoma Pollinators need Native Oklahoma Plants to feed and nurture them.

• Butterflies like flat flowers that create a landing pad where they can flutter and eat at the same time.

• Daisy-shaped flowers like Zinnias, Daisies, and Coneflowers will also attract butterflies and provide nectar for adult butterflies.

• Blossoms made up of clusters of smaller blooms like Butterfly Weeds, Cleomes, Garden Phlox, and Verbenas are also tasty treats.

• Other butterfly magnets are Autumn Sages, Black-eyed Susans, Gaillardias, Gauras, Hollyhocks, Lantanas, Liatris, Monardas, Pentas, Purple Coneflowers, Salvias, and Sedums.

• Butterflies must also have host plants to lay their eggs and for the larvae to feed on until they form a chrysalis. Dill, Parsley (Italian flat-leaf), and Fennel are great host plants for our State Butterfly, the Black Swallowtail, and are also very pretty plants mixed in with your flowers. Once you plant dill, it will reseed and you'll have plenty for you and the butterflies each year. I have beautiful bronze fennel that overwintered even through the polar vortex this year and are over 5’ tall. Keep in mind that butterfly larvae are caterpillars, so be careful which ones you smush and spray BT on. Not all caterpillars are bad and most don't do enough damage to your plants to actually destroy them. Native plants are especially resilient and super tough.

Hummingbirds are another group of flying show-offs that will provide hours of entertainment and beauty in the garden.

• While hummingbirds feed on a wide variety of plants, they seem to prefer feeding on flowers that are brightly colored and funnel-shaped. Orange and red flowers are high on the hummingbird’s preference list but hummers will feed from other nectar flowers regardless of their color. Some good native Oklahoma wildflowers to plant are Autumn sage, Cardinal flower (probably the number one flower to attract hummingbirds), Columbines, Cross vine, Indian paintbrush, Liatris, Monarda (bee balm), Garden Phlox, Red morning glory, Savias, Trumpet vine, Trumpet honeysuckle, and Wild sweet William.

• Many of the plants that attract hummingbirds also attract butterflies so you get double the pleasure. Plant a variety of plants that will provide a profusion of blooms from early spring through late fall. Planting large groups of flowers in different locations in your yard will give more color and attract butterflies and hummingbirds better. It will also help reduce conflicts between the territorial little male hummers who will fight if flowers and feeders are too close together.

• Trees and shrubs provide perches, nesting sites, and protection from predators and Oklahoma weather. They also harbor insects that are an important source of protein for hummingbirds. When you plant a new tree or shrub, go Native, and plant an Oak (many to choose from), Red Maple, Caddo Maple, Shantung Maple, Lacebark Elm, Kentucky Coffee Tree, Bald Cypress, Oklahoma Redbud, Deciduous Holly, Evergreen Holly, Beautyberry, Chokeberry, Oakleaf Hydrangea, or Rose of Sharon. Happy Butterfly & Hummingbird Gardening!