Winged beauties: Certain plants will draw butterflies, hummingbirds to your yard

Winged beauties: Certain plants will draw butterflies, hummingbirds to your yard

August 9th, 2014 by Susan Pierce in Life Entertainment

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Purple giant hyssop's spiky clusters are on strong central stems.

Purple giant hyssop's spiky clusters are on strong...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.


Faith Sharp says the same nectar-producing plants that attract butterflies will also draw hummingbirds. Here are some tips to keep them darting among the flowers.

• Hummingbirds prefer tubular flowers in pinks, red, yellows and oranges such as columbine, lobelia, lupines and monarda.

• Because of their high metabolism rates, hummingbirds may eat up to half their weight in food and eight times their weight in fluids daily. They primarily eat small insects and nectar.

• Sugar water feeders should be used from mid-April to mid-October. Bring feeders in before the end of October so as not to delay hummingbirds from starting their migration.

• Sugar feeders should be suspended about 10 feet above the ground, which allows the tiny birds space to hover.

• Suggested sugar water recipe: 1 part sugar, 4 parts water. Boil for several minutes if using chlorinated fluoride water, let cool before filling feeder.


How can you tell the difference between a moth and butterfly?

A butterfly will have a little ball on the end of its antennae; the moth has what looks like feathers off the sides of its antennae, says Faith Sharp, president of the Bradley County Master Gardeners Association.

Beth Rice's front yard is a riot of colors in a variety of flowers that work together for one purpose: attracting butterflies.

Rice, a master gardener, raised and released monarchs when she lived in Tampa, Fla., before moving to Chattanooga's North Shore two years ago. After settling in her new home, she tore out the front lawn and replanted the entire space in milkweed, hyssop, coneflowers and lantana. Her goal was to literally stop butterflies in their migratory tracks.

It worked. Her yard is now a certified Monarch Butterfly Way Station.

Monarchs are known for their annual migration from southern Canada to Mexico, a 6,000-mile round trip. Rice explains that the butterflies that leave Mexico aren't the ones that will finish the trip in Canada.

"They can go through four to five life cycles on the way up," she explains. Each generation mates, lays eggs that hatch and grow to become the next generation, all the while continuing the first butterfly's northward migration.

Eggs are laid by the females during spring and summer onto the leaves of milkweed plants. After the eggs hatch, those larvae feed on the milkweed.

"Monarchs are at risk now because all the milkweed is being killed out by new developments, so they don't have anywhere to lay their eggs," Rice says.

To help sustain monarchs on their long journeys, Monarch Watch encourages enthusiasts to plant way stations, which contain milkweed and other butterfly favorites that can serve as host plants for larvae. The gardener must also swear off the use of pesticides and chemicals in that garden. To date, there are just over 8,700 certified way stations registered in North America, according to the nonprofit's website.

In addition to monarchs, Tennessee is home to swallowtail, fritillary, sulfur, buckeye, painted lady, red admiral, spring azure and mourning cloak butterflies, according to Faith Sharp, pest and disease specialist at Ooltewah Nursery.

Sharp led a recent workshop on choosing flowers that will draw butterflies to backyard gardens. She says butterfly gardens can range in size from several acres to just a couple of potted containers on the back stoop. All that's required is three things: a food source, water source and shelter.

"Butterflies need nectar-producing plants where they can lay their eggs. When their eggs hatch, the young feed will on that plant," she explains. She suggests choosing native plants since they are best-suited to the area and will require less maintenance.

Some butterfly favorites are lantana, milkweed, fennel, parsley, aster, coreopsis, echinacea, rudbeckia, sedum, malva mallow, bee balm and Asclepias tuberosa.

A water source can be a bird bath, a misting garden hose or even a shallow puddle.

"Shelter includes host plants where butterfly eggs may be laid, thick bushes, and bigger, taller plants that will cast shade onto the flower bed during the hot part of the day," she says.

Sharp cautions gardeners not to overwater these plants. If the plant is in a container, water every other day. Those in the ground should be watered twice a week. Let the ground dry out before watering again.

Contact Susan Pierce at or 423-757-6284.