Want to learn how to attract hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden? This guide will show you which flowers and feeders work best!
There's something magical about witnessing a hummingbird or butterfly flitting about the garden. In this guide, you'll learn how to attract hummingbirds and butterflies with the right nectar, plants and baths to entice these delicate creatures to stick around longer!
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We live in the Pacific Northwest, and there are two types of hummingbirds in our area. The most common are Anna's hummingbirds, who stick around all year. I attached a heater to the bottom of this feeder so the sugar water doesn't freeze during the winter. There was a constant stream of hummingbirds arriving at this feeder during one snowstorm!
I love watching them swoop down from the trees for a drink, and battling for territory in midair. Once everything starts to bloom in spring, they ignore the feeder and eat from the flowers around the garden instead.
Butterflies are more rare around here, but I plan to add a few more elements to our garden this year. Hopefully these flowers and feeders will entice them to come for a visit!
How to Attract Hummingbirds
Flowers and Plants
Hummingbirds love flowers with nectar, and finding the right plants will draw them to your garden. Not only are these winged creatures pretty and fun to watch, but they're essential pollinators too!
Hummingbirds are attracted to anything that is red, yellow, or orange. That's why most of the hummingbird feeders you see in stores are red. They also prefer flowers with long, tubular blossoms. Their pointy beaks make it easy for them to reach the nectar at the bottom that others may leave behind.
Be sure to select the right plants for your growing area and sunlight levels, and keep them watered by installing a drip irrigation system.
Hummingbirds prefer having a variety of places to feed. Create planter boxes around your outdoor living areas, and go vertical with a trellis for flowering vines. Check out these garden trellis plans, and lots of other DIY arbor and trellis ideas here. You can learn more about how to choose the right climber plants for your trellis here.
Best Hummingbird Feeder
The best hummingbird feeder has:
- Red accents to attract the birds,
- Plenty of feeding ports to prevent fighting,
- Easy to clean, and
- Avoid models with yellow "flowers" around the holes, which will attract bees instead!
I've tried the bottle types of hummingbird feeders, but never had much success with them. These saucer style ones are easier to clean, and work so much better! The ring around the outside allows hummingbirds to rest while they drink, and I've seen them just hang out there for a while.
For a close-up view of your hummingbirds, try this window mount version. I have one stuck to our kitchen window, and it's always a pleasant surprise to see them perched inches away while I'm doing the dishes!
How to Make Hummingbird Nectar
Making your own hummingbird nectar is cheaper and better for the birds. You can even store extra in the refrigerator so you always have more on hand!
- Mix four parts water and one part sugar in a pot.
- Bring sugar water mixture to a boil.
- Allow to cool before pouring it into the feeder.
Don't buy red hummingbird nectar at the store! It may be more convenient, but the red dye isn't good for the birds to digest. The red color on the feeder is more than enough to attract their attention. If you insist on buying premade nectar, try this one instead. It's free of dyes and has added electrolytes hummingbirds need.
How to Clean a Hummingbird Feeder
After about a week, the nectar in your hummingbird feeder can start to go bad. Mold can build up in the crevices, driving away your feathered friends or even making them sick. The best hummingbird feeders are easy to clean, so you can put them back out quickly.
Here are the basic steps to clean a hummingbird feeder:
- Empty the feeder and take it apart.
- Soak the feeder in warm, soapy water (I use Dawn dishwashing soap).
- Use an old toothbrush to scrub the inside of each feeding port.
- Scrub the inside of the glass with a bottle brush.
- Rinse all the parts and allow to dry before reassembling.
Depending on your feeder, you may even be able to stick it in the dishwasher. Just make sure it won't melt!
When to Put Out Hummingbird Feeders
Many species of hummingbirds migrate like other birds, and they spend their winters in Central America before heading back north in spring. You can check this hummingbird migration map to see when your local species has left their winter homes and are headed in your direction.
Start putting out half-full feeders in mid-March to help out the early birds (pun intended). This way, you don't waste a lot of sugar water if it sits uneaten all week. Once the weather warms up and flowers are blooming, you can leave the hummingbird feeders out all summer long. Repeat the process in reverse in late October to give the stragglers a last meal before they head south.
Some species of hummingbirds stick around all winter long! Anna's Hummingbird stays in the Pacific Northwest year round, and relies on feeders and insects to survive our mild winters. When the temperatures dip below freezing, add a heater or wrap the tube in incandescent Christmas lights to keep the nectar from turning to ice.
Hummingbirds don't like deep bird baths, so make sure yours has a shallow area around the edges. Some birdbaths are made specifically for hummingbirds, although the shallow pans mean you will need to refill them frequently.
Another option is to add misters around the garden. Position the misters by the leaves of plants so that the water will glisten, attracting the hummingbirds. They then rub against the wet leaves to bathe.
How to Attract Butterflies
Flowers and Plants
Butterflies are attracted to red, orange, yellow, pink and purple blossoms. They are also looking for nectar but need flowers that are flat or in clusters so they can perch on them while they feed.
Some examples of flowers that butterflies love are:
Again, make sure the plants you select will work for your climate and sunlight levels.
Plant your butterfly flowers in an area that will get between 5-6 hours of sunlight each day. Butterflies prefer to be warm & dry when they fly.
Butterflies don't like the wind because it causes them to have to fight to stay on the flowers. If possible, place your butterfly plants in a calm area or plant larger bushes on the perimeter to protect it from the wind.
The simplest way to set out food for a butterfly is to cut up a few pieces of fruit and leave them out on a plate. This is common at butterfly houses that are closed off from the elements, but will probably attract other insects in your backyard.
You can use the same nectar for both butterflies and hummingbirds. There are butterfly feeders that look similar to a saucer-style hummingbird feeder, but in their preferred yellow color and smaller ports. This kit even comes with the butterfly nectar you'll need to get started!
Butterflies have different water needs than hummingbirds. They prefer to drink from very shallow puddles, preferably with sand or soil underneath. Using colored sand in their favorite color may draw them in easier.
You can make one of these puddlers with a simple pie tin! Bury the pie tin in your garden, and add colored sand to the bottom. Place flat rocks sticking up from the water line so butterflies will be able to land on them and dry off. Refresh the water as necessary, adding a pinch of salt to provide minerals for the butterflies.
You can also find beautiful puddler stones with a shallow water areas built into a ceramic disk. Surround it with the butterfly plants listed above, and you'll have the perfect refuge for these delicate creatures.
Avoid using pesticides in your garden. Hummingbirds don't just eat nectar, but also small bugs that pesticides may kill off. In addition, pesticides are one of the reasons why butterfly populations such as the Monarch butterfly are dwindling. There are lots of different ways to garden organically and not hurt the butterflies and hummingbirds that you want to stop by.
Attracting hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden isn't difficult once you have the right elements in place. After you're done, you'll love being able to sit outside and watch your visitors day after day!
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