When I headed out my front door this afternoon to pick up my mail, about 20 painted lady butterflies fluttered up from my flowers and began flitting around me. I felt like Snow White in a Disney film!
Granted, there has been an unusually high number of painted ladies along Colorado’s Front Range this year. I’m just delighted a small flock of them decided to visit my garden.
Nearly every plant in my front yard is a nectar source. And some of the plants, such as butterfly weed, serve as butterfly hosts (egg-laying sites and larval food sources), as well. Which only goes to show that your garden doesn’t have to look like a weed patch to attract pollinators.
Since installing all these plants, I’ve noticed that my yard has turned into a virtual pollinator factory, with buzzing and flitting going on throughout the day.
What are some of these critters’ favorite meals? Well, bees go gaga over little Trudy catmint (Nepeta ‘Psfike’ Little Trudy). Hummingbirds and butterflies, meanwhile, feast on sunset hyssop (Agastache rupestris), Sonoran sunset hyssop (Agastache cana ‘Sinning’) and orange carpet hummingbird trumpet (Zauschneria garrettii).
It’s important to ensure you have flowers blooming throughout the growing season to provide a continuous food source.
So in the spring, my serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’), Pawnee Buttes sand cherry (Prunus besseyi ‘Pawnee Buttes’), Cheyenne mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii), dwarf broom (Genista lydia), ornamental onion (Allium ‘Globemaster’) and soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides) provide sustenance. Little Trudy begins blooming in early May and keeps going till frost. Rozanne cranesbill (Geranium ‘Gerwat’ Rozanne) blooms in May, as well, and will keep blooming into fall if you cut it back when it starts fading in late summer.
Then in summer, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow’), orange carpet hummingbird trumpet, hyssop, Stella d’Oro daylilies, butterfly bush (Buddleia x USPP 23423 ‘Miss Molly’), Pollypetite rose of Sharon (Hibiscus sp. ‘Rosina’ USPPAF) and snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus in my side-yard rock meadow) generate blossoms. Except for lavender and butterfly weed, all of these summer bloomers keep generating flowers well into fall.
And, of course, I have annuals blooming in pots and in the ground to provide yet another food source.
Granted, I have a few plants that pollinators don’t visit for food. There’s my Kentucky bluegrass, for example. It doesn’t produce nectar, but it does provide a runway, which butterflies and hummingbirds appreciate for zooming around. My tiger eyes sumac isn’t a food source either, but its dense foliage can provide shade and storm shelter for pollinators. As for my groundcover roses, they don’t produce nectar for pollinators, but bees will visit them to collect pollen.
Besides food, host plants, shelter and runways, pollinators require water. A shallow saucer filled with sand and water will enable butterflies, for example, to rehydrate themselves and ingest important minerals.
If you don’t have many pollinator plants in your garden, consider planting more next year. You’ll be surprised at the difference they make.
For more information on enticing pollinators, check out Attracting Hummingbirds and Butterflies to Your Backyard by Sally Roth. Or download the Colorado State University Extension fact sheet 5.504 on butterflies.