Helen Yoest is the author of Plants With Benefits: An Uninhibited Guide to the Aphrodisiac Herbs, Fruits, Flowers & Veggies in Your Garden (2014, St. Lynn’s Press) and Gardening With Confidence – 50 Ways to Add Style for Personal Creativity (2012 GWC Press).

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Attracting the Birds and the Bees
by Helen Yoest    


Most of us have a color preference – some prefer hot colors while others pine for pastels. While we may be drawn to a particular color, we typically enjoy other colors along the spectrum as well. The same goes for wildlife. There are certain colors that attract certain wildlife, but once in the garden, they will often visit plants of different colors, as long as other attributes suit their needs. Nature, in all her glory, has created order in a chaotic world by “assigning” colors this way. So, whether for camouflage or food, color is an important element in the design of a wildlife garden.  

There are many aspects of creating a wildlife habitat, but none as fun as adding color to attract our winged friends. Color plays a very important role in the pollination puzzle.  

To attract hummingbirds, red rules the roost. In nature, red flowers provide the energy necessary to sustain hummingbirds over their journey. Adding red to your garden will lure the hummers to your landscape. Once there, they will happily sip from feeders and other nectar-loving plants.    

If you want to attract more hummingbirds, add more red. To bring them in from afar, add a lot of red – red flowers, red furniture or red bird feeders. Just be sure that when they enter your garden, there are plenty of nectar-rich flowers for them to feed on.  

Nearly all flowers that depend on hummingbirds for pollination are red or red-orange. Their nectar is held deep inside the throat of the flower, inaccessible to most other pollinators.  

To the bee’s eyes, vivid red hummingbird flowers simply blend into the background. Since they don’t see red, they have a hard time distinguishing those from surrounding greenery. You will find bees on red flowers, but they were typically found by bumping into them, not by sight.  

Some of the red (and reddish) plants that attract and feed hummingbirds include honeysuckle (Lonicera x heckrottii), bee balm (Monarda spp.), columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Canna, Gladiolus, Salvia, crossvine (Bignonia capreolata ‘Tangerine Beauty’), azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) and cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).

As nature would have it, nocturnal critters are the ones that depend most on white blooms. Night-flying moths and bats will fill my Raleigh garden, attracted to the bright flowers, and their scent as well.

I like white flowers for a variety of reasons. They show up from a distance, work in color-filled beds to fill empty spaces, and of course, they are bright at night. That’s the real reason I like them. The reds, blues, purples, and even yellows, fade away as the sun sets, but white flowers bring brilliance to the darkness.  

Moths feed on nectar, which they drink using their long tongues. White and pale-colored flowers have evolved to provide nectar for moths, and in return, moths pollinate the flowers. But like butterflies, hummingbirds and bees, moths will sip the nectar from any plant that meets their needs, no matter the color. So plant the bright whites to attract them, and once there, they’ll feed on any plant that suits their needs.  

Moth-attracting flowers include angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia spp.), moon flower (Ipomoea alba), pinks (Dianthus sp.), soapwort (Saponaria officinalis), evening primroses (Oenothera biennis, O. glazoviana, O. stricta), Buddleia, coneflowers (Echinacea spp.), lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina), plus others such as Cleome and flowering tobacco plant (Nicotiana spp.).  

Butterflies will flutter in, lured by the color purple. Although purple isn’t as strong an enticement as red is to hummingbirds, purple has been shown to be a preferred color. And you can never have too much purple! Butterflies will sip the nectar of any plant that suits their needs, but to bring them to the garden, you can count on purple.  

Bees have a preference for the color blue, and can’t see red, so they stay away from red plants, the hummingbirds’ favorite. Bumblebees, honeybees, mason bees, and many other bees see in the ultraviolet spectrum, blue-green, blue and violet.  

Some of the purple plants I’ve added to my garden to attract and sustain various bees and butterflies, include Agapanthus, hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), Crocus, Cosmos, coneflowers, pinks, Phlox, lavender (Lavandula spp.), asters (Symphyotrichum spp.) and Salvia, as well as germander (Teucrium spp.), bog sage (Salvia uliginosa), Verbena and obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana).

To avoid contact with wasps, never work in the yard or garden wearing yellow or white, since these colors attract insects. Many insects cannot see red, making it a good choice to wear when working in the yard. You should also avoid perfumes, colognes, hair sprays and other fragrances, and by all means, be careful walking barefoot.  

Bees find it hard to differentiate red from green, so good flower colors to attract bees are blue, purple, violet, white and yellow.  A few favorite yellow flowers include daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Mahonia, Rudbeckia, sunflower (Helianthus spp.) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium).    

When designing a wildlife garden, choose flowers with diverse colors, and help the wildlife find your garden by planting large swaths of five or seven plants per grouping. Make your garden a beacon to wildlife.



This article appeared in a previous edition of a State-by-State Gardening publication.


Posted: 04/19/19   RSS | Print


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