Creating a Sanctuary for Birds and Butterflies

birds buttefliesBirds and butterflies are fun to watch in the garden and they play an important role pollinating flowers, helping control pests and scattering seeds. With just a little bit of planning, you can have them flocking to your garden. The key is to know what they are looking for.

To attract birds and butterflies, you must have adequate sources of food, shelter and water. Flowers provide color, as well as nectar and seeds. Trees and shrubs bear nuts, fruit and berries and offer shelter, breeding places and nesting sites for birds and butterflies. Ponds, fountains or other water elements accent the garden and provide necessary moisture and drinking sources for birds and butterflies. By combining these elements you can attract these winged creatures to your garden.

When selecting wildlife-friendly plants for your garden, look for varieties that are both prolific bloomers and have a long bloom time. Prune your plants to prevent excessive woody growth and encourage the growth of new flowers. Provide birds with food and shelter during all four seasons by planting trees and shrubs that offer seeds and fruit. Invite these lovely helpers by following these tips:

  • Hummingbirds are attracted to bright orange, red and hot pink blossoms. Their long, narrow beaks can reach the nectar of long, tubular flowers such as the Balboa Sunset Trumpet Vine, with its large scarlet blossoms, and the Goldflame Honeysuckle, which has vibrant yellow and red flowers. Other good choices are the Navajo series of Salvia, available in many colors, including bright red, rose and salmon red.
  • Not all hummingbirds feed at the same height, so plant an array of shrub sizes and climbing vines for food sources.
  • Butterflies are attracted to purple and yellow. They, too, are seeking nectar, but their mouths, or proboscises, are much smaller than hummingbirds, so they prefer flatter flowers they can perch on while they feed. The no-fail plant for butterflies is the Butterfly Bush, or Buddleia. However, since they can get too large for some gardens, consider the Petite series of Dwarf Butterfly Bushes. Petite Indigo has a profusion of lilac-blue flowers; Petite Plum sports reddish-purple blooms and the Petite Snow has pure white blossoms.
  • Lilacs are favorites of butterflies, but don’t typically flower well in climates with warmer winters. The Blue Skies Lilac produces huge clusters of light lavender-blue flowers that don’t require winter chilling. Both Birds and butterflies love Coneflowers, such as the bright pink Pixie Meadowbrite. Asters are great because they bloom well into fall. The Farmington Aster has a profusion of lilac bloom clusters that will keep the birds and butterflies fed and your garden looking bright.
  • To encourage butterflies to remain in your garden throughout their life cycle, it’s important to grow plants that will feed their larvae as well as the nectar plants to feed them. Butterflies will visit your garden if there is an abundance of nectar plants and certain specific larval host plants. Some larval plants to include in your garden plan are Trees: Birch (Betula), Hornbeam (Carpinus), Willow (Salix), Dogwood (Cornus); Shrubs: Lilac (Syringa), Viburnum, Sumac (Rhus), California Lilac (Ceanothus), Mallow (Lavatera); Perennials: Milkweed (Asclepias), Sedge (Carex), Aster, Lupine (Lupinus); and Vines: Honeysuckle (Lonicera).
  • Birds will be grateful for the shelter and food found in many popular trees and shrubs. The Golden RaindropsĀ® Crabapple, Cranberry Bush Viburnum and Super RedĀ® Flowering Quince provide important sources of food for many birds
  • Supply a source of water. Hummingbirds enjoy flying through a fine mist, which cools them off. Butterflies like drinking from shallow puddles. Position some large flat rocks in a sunny spot, on which butterflies can sun themselves to warm their wings. All birds need water for drinking and for bathing. Birdbaths are a simple way to provide water and add a great design element to your garden. The surface of a birdbath should be coarse for better footing. The sides should incline slightly to a depth of no more than three inches and the water should be changed every few days.

Designing to Attract Winged Creatures

A wildlife garden often has a looser more natural appearance than a formally landscaped garden. Dried flowers, spilled seeds and fallen leaves are all a part of this natural look and help support the needs of your visitors. By avoiding pesticides or herbicides, you’ll attract animals and beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and lacewings.

Planning Guide – Consider the following things when planning your wildlife garden: Not all hummingbirds and butterflies obtain food sources at the same levels so plan your garden in multi-tiers, with the tallest plant in the background and the shortest in the foreground. For instance, tall trees in the background, medium-sized shrubs, perennials and vines in the mid-section, small shrubs and groundcovers in the foreground or as borders. These winged creatures are a lot like us – they enjoy a wide variety of food, so plant a variety of fragrant, flowering plants. To ensure your wined friends stick around, include an array of plants with differing bloom cycles – from early spring to frost.


Trees lend structure to the garden and provide perching, nesting and roosting sites for birds and butterflies. Trees are the dominant element in your landscape and add stately elegance and privacy. When choosing a tree consider spread, height and growth habits. May offer brilliant fall foliage, fruit trees offer spring blooms, and evergreens are best for winter color and protection.


Shrubs provide hiding places, shady resting spots, quick cover from predators and provide a great nesting habitat for wildlife. Shrubs are useful for screens, barriers, hedges and backgrounds, and are often used as foundation plantings. Smaller shrubs complement flower borders and visually lead your eyes to larger background plantings. Planting in groups makes your display more impressive. Plant in varying heights and textures to create a more visually interesting garden.