Flower Beds

Photo © Rhiannon Crain

Flower Power

For many people, there is no better Spring rite than seeing massed flower beds in full color. You wait all winter or dry season for it, and you enjoy having cheerful flowers in bloom. Also waiting for the flowers are their respective pollinators. Ever notice how the pollinators time their emergence with that of our flowers (and the birds time their arrival with that of the pollinators)? With clever combinations of annual and perennial flowers, grasses, and groundcovers, you can meet more life requirements for butterflies and moths: not only nectar sources for adults, but also plant foods for their larvae. Other invertebrates will benefit from increased consideration of palatable plants, and you will still get to enjoy your perennial favorites.

Spider on Goldenrod

Insects and flowering plants are made for each other

Photo © Kuzeytac

Natives make gorgeous flowers too

Baby Blue Eyes (Nemophila menziesii), and Birds Eyes (Gilia tricolor)

Photo © Philip Bouchard

Guests not pests

Those “pest-free” plants in the nursery are attractive to gardeners who have dealt with skeletonized foliage or aborted blooms. But beautiful, award-winning foliage is somehow diminished by its hostile repulsion of would-be diners. They might look “perfect” to us, but to a bird, they probably offer little more than some nesting materials and perhaps nectar. Move over Lily-of-the-Valley and English Ivy; there’s room in the bed for natives!

The best blooms for beneficial garden insects:

  1. Asters
  2. Coneflowers
  3. Goldenrods
  4. Tickseeds
  5. Sunflowers
  6. Culinary Herbs, especially members of the carrot and parsley families

Try these hints for happy hummers:

  1. Plant perennials with red, tubular flowers, like Cardinal Flower, Bee Balm, or Trumpet Vine
  2. Fragrance is unnecessary; hummers do not rely on smell to find food
  3. Other flower colors are acceptable, like orange, pink, purple, and blue
  4. Have plenty of annuals around for a continuous bloom period from spring to fall
  5. Large masses of hummingbird favorites, like Jewelweed, are more likely to get noticed

Night time is the right time for these moth attractors:

  1. Plants with white or pale flowers are more visible in the dark
  2. Flowers with rich, sweet fragrances…especially at night
  3. Look for long tubes, especially downward-pointing blooms
  4. Yuccas, evening primroses, Moonflower, and gardenias are good choices
  5. Day-flying moths will visit brightly colored, composite flowers

Song bird borders

Our tendency to mass plants together for an aesthetically appealing border or bed is a good thing; it provides an abundant, conspicuous food source for passing insects and hummingbirds. To go native, you don’t have to compromise on flashy flowers (like milkweeds, Scarlet Beebalm, and delphiniums), interesting accents (like Sideoats grama and Coralbells), or copious groundcovers (like Bunchberry, Wild Strawberry, or oxalis). Of course, old favorites that produce seeds for birds are still very welcome, but it has never been more important to allow some nibbled leaves in your songbird border.

Daisy Seedheeds

Some flowers leave visually interesting seedheads long after their greenery and flowers fade.

Photo © Liz West

Growing like a weed

You can provide natural sources of seed by incorporating a ‘weedy’ patch in your yard. Weedy annuals (and remember they are only weeds if you decide you don’t want them) like ragweed, lamb’s-quarter, amaranth, and panic grass produce enormous amounts of seed each year compared to common garden perennials. Start exploring candidates to add to your flower beds by checking out the recommended species of native plants for your state or province.

hummingbird moth

All moth, this Sphinx moth looks remarkably like a hummingbird both in shape and habit. It reminds us that close observation of nature often yields jaw-dropping results. Creating a detailed map of your yard for YardMap is one way to encourage deeper observation of the natural world right around you! Get outside, and get seeing! www.yardmap.org

Photo © Cornell Lab of Ornithology