The Q&A Archives: Attracting Butterflies

Question: I am new to Tucson and want to plant a variety of easy care and drought resistant plants for a colorful garden. What are the best choices to attract butterflies and hummingbirds? Also roses seem to do well but i would like to grow them year-round in a pot...suggestions? Any other tidbits to make an enjoyable garden would be welcome!

Answer: It is easy to encourage hummingbirds to visit your yard and there are numerous plants that thrive in the desert that they will visit. Hummers are particularly attracted to reds, pinks and oranges and their long beaks are well-adapted for tubular shaped flowers, such as salvias, penstemons, and trumpet flowers. Also, chuparosa, aloe, ocotillo, fairy duster, justicia, tecoma stans, and zauschneria are reliable hummingbird attractors. Hummingbirds also provide an excellent reason to leave spider webs intact, as they use the sticky web material to build their nests. A beautiful summer flowering tree is the Desert Willow, which has pink/scarlet trumpet shaped flowers that attract hummingbirds. A good reference for this area is Desert Hummingbird Gardens by Sylvia Yoder. Butterflies have specific favorite host plants to lay their eggs on. The plant the caterpillars feed on are not necessarily the ones the adults are attracted to. Therefore you will want to plant a variety of species for both larvae and adults. Most butterflies feed on flowers (like members of the sunflower or zinnia family) with large exposed sites to easily obtain nectar. They are attracted to gardens with lots of color, especially bright, vibrant colors with striking contrasts. The most effective way to attract them is to provide not only nectar sources for the adult butterfly but food plants for caterpillars. Butterfly larvae (caterpillars) are selective and usually feed on just one or two types of plants. If you grow these host plants, butterflies will come to lay their eggs. For nectar plants, consider lantana, verbena, salvia, mint, and rosemary. Other favorites are flowers that have flat surfaces that can be used for landing pads, such as calendula, black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower, aster, coreopsis, spreading fleabane, zinnia, and gaillardia. Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and passionvine are other excellent choices. Black Swallowtail larvae feed on both leaves and flower heads of dill, parsley, and fennel. (Annuals & Perennials): asters, Shasta daisy, purple coneflower, hollyhocks (larval host plant), nicotiana, petunia, phlox, coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, Gaillardia, Pincushion flower, cosmos, sunflowers, French marigolds (tagetes spp.), zinnias, verbena, and salvia. (Wildflowers): Milkweed (larval host plant), Butterfly Weed (larval host plant), tithonia or Mexican sunflower , Indian paintbrush, purple coneflower, desert globe-mallow (larval host plant), Black-eyed Susan, any sunflower family member, coreopsis, liatris. Herbs: yarrow, hyssop, mints, lavender, bee balm, rosemary, catnip, pineapple sage. Good luck with your bird and butterfly garden!

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