Attracting Hummingbirds and Butterflies

A popular garden trend is planting to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Both are drawn to nectar-rich flowers, adding activity, sound and beauty to your garden.

In early May, I know hummingbirds have returned when they visit my quince bushes. Right now my quince hedge is fully budded and the blossoms will open soon, just in time for my summer visitors. Their arrival is a happy day for me! Providing a sequence of bloom all spring, summer and into autumn assures these visitors will find my yard a welcoming habitat. Hanging baskets of annuals like fuchsia, petunia, thunbergia and million-bells (Calibrachoa) in bright red, orange or pink are highly attractive. Tubular flowers like agastache, penstemon, crocosmia, monarda, kniphofia, salvia and lobelia are magnets to hummingbirds.

Many people use hummingbird feeders to supplement flowers, however, sugar water not only attracts hornets and flies, it lacks the vitamins and minerals found in flower nectar. If you do keep a feeder, be sure to clean it weekly to avoid potentially harmful mold and bacteria that can adversely affect hummingbirds.


Monarda didyma – Bee Balm

Butterflies love many of the same flowers as hummingbirds, however, choosing native plants that they are naturally adapted to provides food for both larvae and adults. Learn to identify the larvae of your favorite butterflies so that they are not mistaken for pests. Realizing that you are planting a garden with plants that are intended to be riddled with holes seems contrary, but if you want to successfully attract butterflies, provide for the entire life cycle.

Monarch instar larva on Milkweed

Monarch instar larva on Milkweed (

Some plants, such as milkweed and joe-pye-weed, are used by both larvae and adults, while others provide nectar for the adult butterflies that we love to see flitting about our gardens. Coneflower, gaillardia, phlox, goldenrod, liatris, New England aster, sedum and black-eyed Susan are highly favored perennials. Trumpet vine and honeysuckle are popular vines. Azalea, lilac and blueberry are good shrub choices. Zinnia, lantana, verbena and impatiens are frequently visited annuals.



Situate larval food plants toward the back of your border or in a spot where their chewed leaves won’t bother you. Train yourself to cheer their tattered appearance! Refrain from using pesticides anywhere in your yard. Plan for a succession of bloom all season long to attract the maximum number of species. Click this website link for information and photos to help identify butterfly and moth species, their ideal habitat, favorite flowers and larval host plants.

Attracting winged creatures to your garden adds color, vitality and greater enjoyment for you in your garden, while simultaneously ensuring the survival of our winged friends.


Swallowtail Butterfly on Milkweed (


About Eliza Waters

Gardener, writer, photographer, naturalist
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24 Responses to Attracting Hummingbirds and Butterflies

  1. This was great. Thank you. I will look into some of the plants you suggested.

  2. ladyfi says:

    Gorgeous zinnias!

  3. dorannrule says:

    Do you suppose hummers like hibiscus? I just planted a hibiscus bush (as an annual)! Love your posts Eliza. So informative and helpful.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Thanks, Dor! I expect they would like the hibiscus, esp. if it is red – their favorite color. They like hot, vibrant colors – the brighter the better. I have a shirt that has reddish-coral flowers on it and often I am ‘inspected’ up close – lol!

  4. Hummingbirds are always moving so fast. You forget they are so colorful. thanks for the awesome picture.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      The pic is of a tropical species – I had to use it in my post, it was so beautiful. Your CO/Western hummingbirds are striking, esp. Anna’s with the purple throat. We have ruby-throated here. I’ve never seen a rufous, which they claim are sighted in all the states. I think they all are amazing, esp. when they zip past so close you can hear their wings buzz.

  5. Maria F. says:

    Great tips Eliza. I remember that in FL the Pentas (for feeding) are an old time favourite in botanical gardens and butterfly houses. Here, we have a huge milkweed plant called ‘the Calotropis procera’,

  6. Robbie says:

    Thank you for posting this since I need to create a few more butterfly, bee , + humming bird magnets. I have some ,but need more!!!

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Love those little flyers! My butterfly visitor I posted about really cheered me up. It was like a quiet message from Nature saying, “Thanks and keep on providing the nectar!”

      • Robbie says:

        oh, the other day a young swallowtail was in my garden!!!! I did not have my camera I sure hope he stays!

      • Eliza Waters says:

        Or at least lays a few eggs! If you know what kind of swallowtail it was, you can look up host plants to see if you have anything to feed the larva. Our woods have tons of food for Eastern swallowtails, so we have lots of them.

      • Robbie says:

        I am putting in two new native plant areas in my garden. I carved out two areas which is not too easy in a small space, but I went vertical. Do you know of any plants that would be great to attract:-) I’ll look too. I read your post on butterflies, hummers + also one on inspired me!!!!

      • Eliza Waters says:

        Yay! I just read an article today on how important it is to plant natives because insects are adapted to them and all the way up the food chain, birds and beyond, depend on them. We have suburban deserts of lawns and non-native species that do not support “pests” – we need to embrace full ecology. Eat and be eaten is the WAY of life. My gardens are rather ratty by the end of the season, but my yard is full of life and I am grateful for that! I am glad to hear you are helping open up your area to the full spectrum of life – that is a victory for the planet – one small garden at a time! 🙂

  7. Like your holistic approach to gardening 🙂 I’m always suspicious of the too perfect garden … ‘pests’ are a natural part of the larger scheme of things. The nibbled look around the edges of leaves speak of an embraced ecology!

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Music to my ears! I love that you appreciate the ‘nibbled look!’ I’m trying to get that message across to more folks. I think I will quote your last sentence from now on – I like the sound of ‘an embraced ecology.’ 🙂 Thanks, Liz!

  8. A beautiful post , Eliza , and I am sorry to have missed it in May. Thank you for pointing out how important it is to provide natural nectar for hummingbirds rather than offering sugar water . Your photos are beautiful as always . 😊

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