Tag Archives: pollinators

Planting for Hummingbirds

In the past we’ve discussed the basics of pollinator gardens, planting for Black Swallowtail Butterflies, and 5 butterflies common to the Mid-Atlantic and how to support them. We’ve also covered 10 beneficial birds and how to attract them. However, a Facebook follower recently pointed out we haven’t done a post about hummingbirds! So without further adieu, here’s what you should know about planting for hummingbirds.

Hummingbird Species

If you live in the Eastern U.S., the hummingbirds you see are likely to be Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Occasionally, Black-chinned Hummingbirds and Rufous Hummingbirds are seen during the winter, primarily in the Deep South.

A great resource for bird lovers is The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library. You can find photos, videos, and audio recordings of birds from all over.

Habitat and Diet

Hummingbirds spend a lot of their time in open woodlands but they’re easily tempted into yards and gardens with flowers and feeders. You can make your garden and yard more appealing by avoiding large, open areas. Birds prefer to have shelter in the form of clusters of trees, shrubs, or even vines on harbors. They also prefer a varied garden. Opt for plants in a variety of heights. Hummingbirds migrate to Mexico and South America each winter.

Hummingbirds are pollinators and are known for their habit of eating nectar and sap. They may also help keep pests down in your garden too. Hummingbirds are omnivores and sometimes feed on small insects and spiders. They need to eat about twice their body weight per day due to their high metabolism which helps them sustain their rapid wing beats.

Keeping your lawn and garden free of chemicals like insecticides helps keep hummingbirds and other important wildlife healthy.

Flowers

Hummingbirds tend to have a preference for long, tubular flowers that hold a lot of nectar. They also rely heavily on sight to find flowers so those that are brightly colored are excellent choices. It should be noted that though they love the color red you shouldn’t buy or make red “hummingbird food.” Red dyes and food coloring are harmful to hummingbirds.

Here are a few great choices:

They’ll also visit flowering shrubs, vines, and trees like Honeysuckle, Cardinal Vine, Rhododendron, and Butterfly Bush.

Having flowers available in the fall can be especially helpful as hummingbirds prepare to migrate. They sometimes double their weight in preparation for their long flight south! Take a look at blooming times and opt for long-blooming varieties or experiment with multiple successions of annuals.

5 Butterflies Found in the Mid-Atlantic & What to Plant for Them

By now many have heard about and understand the plight of the Monarch butterfly. Over the last few decades, their numbers have been steadily declining as they face food and habitat loss as well as pesticide exposure. Though they’re certainly a deserving and beloved species (plant milkweed!), Monarchs aren’t the only insect or even butterfly that’s struggling. Here are five slightly lesser known butterflies found in the Mid-Atlantic and what you can plant this year to help them.

Photograph of an American Copper from Mass Audubon

American Copper Lycaena phlaeas americana

The American Copper’s is a fairly common butterfly though anecdotally it is seen less frequently today than in the past. These butterflies are orange and grey with black spots.

American Copper caterpillars preferred larval host plant (the plant where a butterfly lays eggs and is eaten by caterpillars) is Sheep Sorrel though it will use curly dock. Leaving sheep sorrel and curly dock available is important for their survival. As adults American Copper butterflies will feed on a wide variety of available flowers.   

Photograph of a Black Swallowtail from Mass Audubon

Black Swallowtail Papilio polyxenes

Commonly mistaken for other swallowtails this mostly black butterfly can be distinguished from other species by the black center on the orange spot on the inside corner of their hindwing. 

If you love the black swallowtail you may have to be willing to share a few of your crops. Black Swallowtail caterpillars will feed on carrots, dill, fennel, and parsley. As adults black swallowtails will feed on a variety of flowers. Like many other butterflies, they are particularly attracted to species such as milkweed, thistle, and clovers.

Photograph of a Common Sootywing from Mass Audubon

Common Sootywing Pholisora catullus

This butterfly can be identified by its glossy black (sometimes dark brown) appearance and the double rows of white dots prominent on the outer margins of the upper forewings. 

The Sootywing’s favorite host plants are lambsquarters, amaranth, and cockscomb (celosia). Adding some of these to your garden or in the case of lambs quarters simply letting them grow can help this butterfly thrive in your yard. Adult Common Sootywings can be found feeding on dogbane, common milkweed, purple loosestrife, and wild indigo. 

Photograph of a Long-tailed Skipper from Mass Audubon

Long-tailed Skipper Urbanus proteus

The Long-tailed Skipper gets its name from the long tails on its hindwings. It can also be identified by its iridescent blue-green head, thorax, and basal areas of both wings. 

This species of caterpillars feed on legumes, including cultivated varieties. Legumes include all sorts of beans and peas, alfalfa, clovers, and wisteria. Many of these species also happen to be really easy to grow. In their butterfly stage, they will feed on a variety of flowers. 

Photograph of an Orange Sulfur from Mass Audubon

Orange Sulfur Colias eurytheme

The Orange Sulfur can be identified by yellow-orange to darker orange upper wing surfaces.

Like the Long-tailed Skipper, Orange Sulfur Caterpillars feed on legumes. However, Orange Sulfurs have a strong preference for alfalfa earning them their nickname the alfalfa butterfly. As adults, they aren’t selective about which type of flowers they feed on.

Additional Tips

A few great flowers for many butterflies include:

The most important consideration with flowers is providing blooms throughout the season. Plant successions and choose flowers with a variety of bloom times from early to late. Choosing native plant varieties can also help butterflies succeed.  Check out our Welcome-to-the-Garden Pollinator Collection.

Avoid the use of pesticides whenever possible. Even certified organic pesticides can affect more than the targeted species. Especially if you live in a dry area consider adding a water feature for butterflies and other pollinators to drink from. 

These are just a small fraction of the Mid-Atlantic’s native butterflies. If you’d like to help butterflies and other pollinators consider some of these tips as your planning and working in your garden this season. 

11 Ways to Make Your Garden More Eco-Friendly This Year

Of course growing your own food is in itself environmentally friendly. Food from a backyard garden uses significantly less fossil fuels than produce from the grocery store. It’s not kept refrigerated for days or shipped halfway around the world.

Backyard gardens still have there own impact though. Through growing food humans are impacting the environment. It doesn’t have to be a bad impact though. You can make your garden a benefit for the environment and species around you.

Install a rain barrel.

If you live somewhere that they’re legal a rain barrel can be a great addition to your garden. You can use water that would otherwise run into the ground.

Grow a pollinator garden.

Pollinator’s numbers are dwindling. They’re losing habitat and being killed by pesticides. You can help make life a little easier on them and encourage them to pollinate your plants by planting a pollinator garden with our handy guide.

Make compost.

Composting is easy and not as smelly as you’d think. You also don’t have to purchase a fancy bin. You can do something simple like a bin made of pallets or even no bin at all. Mother Earth News has a great article on composting here.

Use natural garden amendments.

Even certified organic chemical fertilizers and amendments are far from perfect. Using them can lead to excessive nutrient run-off causing algae blooms in nearby creeks.  Natural fertilizers like compost, plant materials, and wood ash are better alternatives. Check out more options here.

Use grey water.

Grey water is water thats been used in your sink or shower. In some places it’s legal to route this water to your garden rather than your septic tank and use this water to water fruit trees and bushes.

Grow cover crops.

Cover crops add nutrients to the soil without the risk of over fertilizing. They also add habitat for beneficial insects and microbes and prevent soil erosion.

Make your garden water efficient.

There’s a variety of methods to do this including adding swales, berms, and terraces to hold water. It’s also good to use drip irrigation rather than overhead which can evaporate.

Go no-till.

Gardens don’t actually need to be tilled if they’re managed properly. No-till gardening is actually better for soil health and uses no fuel like running a rototiller would!

Add mulch.

I talk about mulch all the time but it’s super important. As far as keeping your garden as eco-friendly as possible, mulch helps to hold in moisture, lessening the need for watering and helps prevent soil erosion. It also adds habitat for beneficial insects.

 

Add habitats for pollinators and beneficial insects.

The addition of pollinator and beneficial insect habitats can be great for your garden and them. You can find a lot of free plans on the internet for houses for beneficial creatures like birds, bats, toads, and insects. Many birds also appreciate a variety of different height plants to land on in the garden while birds and beneficial insects will utilize plant material left standing through the winter.

Utilize permaculture principles.

An entire book would be needed to explain permaculture but many of its principles can be used to help design a garden that works with nature to produce harvests without the need for large water or nutrient inputs. If you want an eco-friendly garden researching permaculture can help get you there.

 

All of our actions impact the world around us. Backyard gardens minimize some of the negative impacts that are found in our current food system but as growers we can choose to take that a step further and make our gardens as eco-friendly as possible.