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Fall Planting: 10 Top Butterfly and Hummingbird Favorites

Oct 3, 2013

Fall Planting: 10 Top Butterfly and Hummingbird Favorites

Flowers that butterflies and hummingbirds favor are rich sources of nectar. But not all nectar-rich butterfly favorites are easy to access with long hummingbird beaks. Conversely, many flowers designed by nature to attract hummingbirds don't have the structure necessary for feeding butterflies or providing a perch.

Butterflies need to alight and stand still on flowers from which they drink whereas hummingbirds, similar to helicopters, are magnificent at hovering and can pause without support to take long sips.

When backyard space is limited, it can be daunting to design wildlife habitat that will attract butterflies and hummingbirds. So we've explored our catalog to provide you with planting choices that appeal to both.

Salvia Nectar Plants for Butterflies and Hummingbirds
When citing height in our catalog and blog, we often give a range, because many Salvias increase in height when their flower spikes emerge. Please note that the second figure in a height measurement refers to how tall the plant is when in bloom.

Butterflies and hummingbirds access nectar from a wide variety of Salvias. However, hummingbirds, which are only found in the Western Hemisphere, tend to prefer sages from their half of the world. Here are some favorites that attract each kind of tiny garden visitor.

Silver Cleveland Sage or California Silver-Blue Sage (Salvia clevelandii 'Deer Springs Silver') Zones 8 to 11

  • Violet-colored flowers bloom during summer
  • 48 inches tall and wide
  • Fragrant, silver-gray foliage
  • Full sun
  • Heat and drought tolerant

Honey Melon Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans 'Honey Melon') Zones 9 to 11

  • Red flowers bloom summer into fall
  • 24 inches tall and wide
  • Fragrant, veined, mid-green foliage with a blush of purple
  • Full sun to partial shade

Wild Thing Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii 'Wild Thing') Zones 6 to 10

  • Coral pink flowers bloom spring to fall
  • 36 inches tall, 24 inches wide
  • Fragrant, dark green foliage and burgundy calyxes
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Heat and drought tolerant

Pink Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha 'Danielle's Dream') Zones 8 to 11

  • Pale pink flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 48 to 60 inches tall, 48 inches wide
  • Soft green foliage and velvety white bracts
  • Full sun
  • Heat and drought tolerant

Big Pitcher Sage (Salvia pitcheri 'Grandiflora') Zones 4 to 9

  • Bicolor deep violet and light blue-to-white flowers bloom in fall
  • 48 to 60 inches tall, 24 inches wide
  • Bright green foliage, shaped like grass blades, and dusky purple calyxes
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Heat and drought tolerant

Jean's Purple Sage (Salvia x 'Jean's Purple Passion') Zones 8 to 11

  • Large, deep purple flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 72 inches tall and wide
  • Smooth-leafed, aromatic foliage
  • Full sun
  • Water loving

Waverly Sage (Salvia x 'Waverly') Zones 8 to 11

  • White flowers bloom summer to winter
  • 48 to 60 inches tall, 72 inches wide
  • Dark green foliage and purplish-pink bracts
  • Full sun
  • Heat and drought tolerant

Salvia Companion Plants for Butterflies and Hummingbirds
At Flowers by the Sea, we primarily focus on growing Salvias but also raise a number of useful, colorful companion plants. Butterflies love tanking up on the rich nectar of Salvias, but rarely if ever lay eggs on them. So to encourage Lepidoptera to stop and stay awhile in our sage gardens, we grow host plants of other species that protect their eggs, feed their baby caterpillars and provide plenty of nectars for the adults.

Butterflies can be extremely specific about host plants. The most famous example is the Monarch (Danaus plexippus), which is a member of the Brushfoot family of butterflies and only chooses Milkweeds for egg laying.

Be sure to include some butterfly host plants in your backyard habitat, including Showy Milkweed, and plenty of nectar-rich favorites including Hot Poker plants and Red Betony -- a close relative of Salvias.

Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) Zones 4 to 9

  • Pink globes of tiny star-shaped flowers bloom spring to fall
  • 24 to 36 inches tall, 24 inches wide
  • Large, fuzzy gray-green leaves
  • Full sun
  • Drought tolerant
  • Caterpillar host and nectar plant

Pineapple Popsicle Hot Poker (Kniphofia 'Pineapple Popsicle') Zones 6 to 9

  • Yellow to yellow-green flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 14 to 26 inches tall, 25 inches wide
  • Clumping foliage with leaves shaped like long grass blades
  • Full sun
  • Drought tolerant
  • Nectar plant

Red Betony (Stachys coccinea) Zones 7 to 9

  • Creamy red-orange flowers bloom spring to fall
  • 24 to 36 inches tall, 36 inches wide
  • Furry, mid-green foliage with fruity fragrance
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought tolerant
  • Nectar plant

Buzzing with Questions?
At FBTS, we know a lot about the birds and the bees, not to mention the butterflies. At least, we know a lot about plants they enjoy and how important these small animals are to pollination in home and commercial gardens.

So give us a call or write; we're always willing to answer questions. For in-depth information about butterflies and caterpillars, including host plants, the North American Butterfly Association is an excellent resource.

Remember that when you grow wildlife habitat, you aid everyone's gardens in your neighborhood. We owe a lot to these hard-working pollinators.

Photo credit:  Donna DeSousa

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Ask Mr Sage is one of the most popular categories in our Everything Salvias blog. Here are a few of the latest posts:
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