How to Attract Hummingbirds & Butterflies to Your Garden
Learn to provide the food, water and shelter needed to bring these winged beauties to your garden!
By Anna Smith
Planning a garden that will attract hummingbirds and butterflies to your Tehachapi yard is a fun project that enchants children and adults alike. When my children were growing up, we enjoyed observing both kinds of these garden inhabitants in their various stages of life and learned to appreciate the beauty they bring to our outdoor habitat as they flit from flower to flower.
We had a wonderful resource person in our dear friend Ed Sampson, the well-known and much-loved entomologist/horticulturist who owned Mourning Cloak Ranch (the ranch was named for the Mourning Cloak Butterfly that was found in abundance there in the early years) who nurtured our budding love of butterflies and mentored my two youngest boys for four years, one day a week at the ranch. Among other things, he taught them about butterflies and moths and even helped them start their own scientific collections.
Many plants that attract hummingbirds and butterflies are easy to grow in Tehachapi, and thrive in our environment.
I could easily define my garden as a haven for these visitors as many of the plants I have grown for years attract them both. In early spring there is a large Grevallia shrub in bloom right outside my south-facing front door. Its unusual red flowers are a magnet for hummingbirds, which can see the color red even though insects cannot.
One year a very aggressive male “hummer” staked out that bush and dive bombed anyone brave enough to try to get to the front door. Now granted, they aren’t big enough to do any harm, but it is an unnerving experience having one fly right at you! So plan your garden with some thought as to where you place large shrubs and the few trees that attract these little guys. There are lots of perennials and a few annuals that I rely on to lure them to the garden as well.
In spring there are the Coral Bells, whose little scarlet red trumpet flowers seem to call the hummingbirds to the garden so they can also enjoy the blossoms of the Columbines as well as California Lilacs (Ceanothus), Lupines, poppies and other wildflowers and the abundant red Jupiter’s Beard (Centranthus ruber), Blue Catmint (Nepeta fassennii), Yarrow, Rosemary, Lilacs, Salvias and Snapdragons. As the weather warms there are butterflies that enjoy many of these same plants as well.
As spring fades into summer the many different Salvia species, Buckwheats (Eriogonums) and Blanket Flowers (Gallardia), tall Verbena bonariensis, Lavenders and Penstemons continue to draw butterflies and hummingbirds. The summer-blooming Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) is an indispensable large shrub in my summer garden. Its long, graceful honey-scented blossoms are attractive to both hummingbirds and Swallowtail and Painted Lady butterflies as well as Hawk Moths that come to partake of their nectar in the evening. In my west garden the Desert Willow is a lovely sight with pink flowers that are reminiscent of Orchids and the fragrant foliage of Hummingbird Mint bids me to run my hands over it every time I pass it in the garden, and the flowers of both of these plants are simply irresistible to hummingbirds and butterflies alike. The annual Cosmos, Zinnias and Hollyhocks add their seasonal charm as do Allysum and Sunflowers. With all these choices the butterflies and “hummers” have an abundant supply of nectar to support them throughout the season.
Rounding out the palette in fall are the Black-Eyed-Susans (Rudbeckias), Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, California Fuchsia (Zauschneria), and Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii ‘Red’) for the hummingbirds. There are also pink and purple-blue Asters, which attract Buckeye butterflies. These butterflies are drawn to the local native Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus) which paint the hillsides a golden yellow in late summer to early fall. In autumn the tall Miscanthus grasses and Feather Reed Grasses are often used as a perch for the smaller birds in the garden, and hummingbirds have been spotted taking a rest from their activities on a stiff blade of grass now and then.
Supplying nectar for the wildlife is only one aspect of hummingbird and butterfly gardening. To truly draw them in you need to supply a supportive environment. Plant your butterfly and hummingbird garden with full souther exposure, preferably near the house for additional shelter. This will create a warm microclimate, with reflected heat and out of the way from most winds. This toasty, relatively still spot is a haven for butterflies, who don’t like to fight strong winds in their effort to sip nectar from the flowers.
Close by is a shallow birdbath that has provided water for many a hummer and all butterflies will hang around mud holes, a characteristic called ‘puddling.’ Mud is a source of essential mineral salts for them. When outside in the early morning, after the irrigation system has given all my plants a drink, I often see butterflies on a wet spot of dark, gravely soil getting their own refreshment. Conifers, oak trees and a few large shrubs provide hummingbirds with a sheltered place to rest, build their nests, and safely survey their garden domain. In this environment our winged friends find the three elements they need most to thrive: water, shelter, and food.
For me, the key to creating a butterfly haven includes not only flowers that provide a source of nectar, but plants that provide for a butterfly’s full life cycle: from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis, and finally to the emergence of a beautiful butterfly. I always leave a few Milkweed plants for the Monarchs to lay their eggs on, and for their caterpillars to eat. Globemallow (Sphaeralcea) provides caterpillar food for Common Checkered Skipper, Painted Lady, West Coast Lady and Grey Hairstreak butterflies. Fennel is dotted throughout my garden as it reseeds itself easily. I find it a charming, fern-like addition and leave it for the Anise Swallowtail butterflies to lay their eggs on. Some of the other local caterpillar plants that grow well in Tehachapi are Buckwheat, California Buckeye, California Sycamores, Coffeeberry, Snowberry, Cottonwoods and other Poplars, native Willows, Hollyhocks, and Penstemon. These are the host plants of butterfles like Lorquin’s Admiral, Mourning Cloak, and Chalcedon Checkerspot to name just a few.
The Tehachapi Mountains are an important habitat for nectar feeders, since we have blooming flowers and surface water even late in summer after the surrounding Mojave Desert and San Joaquin Valley have dried out. You can savor outdoor living by creating a garden that attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. It will bring you hours of delight and provide a habitat for these very important pollinators of the garden, ensuring their future and enriching ours.
Original illustrations by Josiah Ormsby