Garden Notebook – Native Plants for Butterflies, Birds & A Beautiful Garden

Garden Notebook – Native Plants for Butterflies, Birds & A Beautiful Garden

Native Trees, shrubs, and flowers present so many opportunities for a good gardening experience! When we plant native varieties we’re assured that our environment is not only friendly to these new plantings, but the plants themselves can happily settle in requiring less maintenance and protection than other selections. While we’re busy making our landscapes beautiful, birds & butterflies are thanking us! They depend on naturally occurring plants for their health and survival. Keeping the ecosystem in balance is a win-win!

Are native plants as pretty or interesting as flowers and shrubs from outside our area? Yes! In this Garden Notebook, we’ll show how to achieve season long color by selecting just a few plants in a plan that can be started now and continue into the next year.

SPRING

Shadblow (Amelanchier canadensis)
Allegheny Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis)

In April and May, Amelanchiers unfold in beautiful white flowers. Early season bees and butterflies will notice the light, sweet scent indicating nectar in the flowers. Amelanchier trees & shrubs can tolerate shade but will bloom more profusely in full sun. Although drought tolerant once established consistent moisture is also helpful to the blooms. Zones 4-8.

Wild Columbine ‘Little Lanterns’ (Aquilegia canadensis)

Used medicinally by Native Americans, wild columbine is also important to hummingbirds and butterflies. ‘Little Lanterns’ is compact, growing to only 12” height and spread, and will naturalize through almost any area. It prefers full sun to part shade. Dry soil won’t bother it, but moisture after weeks of spring blooming will keep the foliage fresh. Zones 3-8.

Creeping Phlox ‘Sherwood Purple’ (Phlox stolonifera)
Creeping Phlox ‘Emerald Pink’ (Phlox subulata)

Creeping phlox is a familiar harbinger of early spring in our area. It’s easy to forget that it is a very rich source of nectar for native insects and butterflies and also makes a great deer resistant groundcover. Creeping phlox tolerates full sun to part shade to achieve its natural spreading habit. Perfect for rock gardens and creating a low growing wave of color that gives way to nice evergreen like foliage. Other varieties are also native to our area. Zones 3-8.

SUMMER

Shadblow (Amelanchier canadensis)
Allegheny Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis)

In midsummer, Amelanchier flowers give way to young pink and violet berries that turn deep purple feeding bluebirds, robins, and other birds over the summer season. Zones 4-8.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias incarnata)

Butterfly weed hardly needs a public relations campaign judging from the requests we get for this bright orange perennial. Asclepias tuberbosa is a very long blooming flower (from early Spring and on into Fall) for good reason. The Monarch butterflies’ lifecycle depends on it.  Zones 3-9. Other butterflies and hummingbirds rely on it as well which makes it a hugely important plant in our view. Asclepias incarnata is no less valuable to the world of winged creatures. It blooms a vivid pink in Summer rising to 3 and 4 ft tall. Zones 3-8. Both grow in full sun to light shade.

Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis)

Baptisia takes some extra care (extra watering) to get established but boy is it worth it! These tall blue perennial flowers are truly blue and host to at least six species of butterfly. They are a real showstopper at 3-4 ft tall and will bridge the gap between Spring bloomers and Mid-season flowering plants giving the pollinators a great home for their eggs. Carefully select a full sun spot for Baptisia as it doesn’t take well to being moved after it’s established. It will reward you with being quite drought tolerant when it’s settled in.  Zones 4-8.

Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea )

Coneflowers are a garden favorite for their big happy faces! In recent years many have come on the market that have been heavily hybridized and they are gorgeous. But don’t forget to work in some of the original pink prairie flowers! ‘Magnus’, ‘Prairie Splendor’, Eastern Purple and ‘Star’ are four pink varieties that will draw butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden in numbers! Finches love the seed heads in the Fall. Plant in full sun and watch them bloom in July and well beyond. If you love white flowers ‘Happy Star’ and ‘White Swan’ are also native to our area. Zones 4-8.

Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata)

You will have your choice of four varieties when it comes to Native Tickseed. Threadleaf Tickseed (zones 3-8) is the original Plant giving rise to ‘Zagreb’ (zones 5-8), ‘Golden Showers’ (zones 4-9), and ‘Creme Brulee’ (zones 5-8). They differ from each other in height, flower size, and hardiness but they all share a very long summer season of yellow flowers when planted in full sun. Poor soil won’t bother coreopsis. It will be determined to survive and makes a great rock garden addition. Remove spent blooms for a continuous bloom leaving the seeds for the finches at the end of the season. Zones

LATE SUMMER

Joe Pye Weed ‘Little Joe’ (Eupatorium dubium)

A nice compact variety of Eupatorium standing at 3 to 4 ft tall. The pink flowers of ‘Little Joe’ tend to be covered with butterflies, especially swallowtails and monarchs, once the blooms emerge in  Summer and continue into Fall making sure those pollinators aren’t left without nectar. You’ll get the benefits of a long blooming perennial with sweetly scented flowers and a great butterfly show! ‘Little Joe’ can tolerate sun but is happier in part sun or part shade. The soil should be evenly moist and well draining. Zones 4-9.

Summer Sweet ‘Ruby Spice’ (Clethra alnifolia)

In late Summer Clethras provide a mass of scented flowers, a magnet for bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. While most Clethras bloom white, ‘Ruby Spice’ is a Native variety with gorgeous pink flowers that provide the energy needed for migrations as Fall comes to the Northcountry. Birds love the seeds left behind whether they will spend the winter with us or not. Clethra is an easy shrub to invite into the garden and adds to your Fall color show with golden yellow leaves. It can be planted in sun to part shade but sun will give it its best color. It also enjoys moist well draining soil. Zones 4-9.

Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida)

Both hirta and fulgida are native to the U.S., both familiar to all as black-eyed Susans, one of the most easily identified wildflowers. Rudbeckia hirta is a member of the sunflower family and in its original form can be an annual, biennial, or perennial! New cultivars have resulted in bi-color petals and size variations. Rudbeckia fulgida is well-known to gardeners because of the success of the cultivar ‘Goldsturm’. The flowers of ‘Goldsturm’ present a brassier yellow than others and a totally reliable plant that will naturalize an area. Both need full sun to perform well. 2-3′ tall. Zones 3-9.

Mexican Hat Plant (Ratibida columnifera ‘Red Midget’)
Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)

If you love cool and interesting flowers, this is the one for you! The deep rich colors of ‘Red Midget’ hovering above slender stems are a sight to behold on this smaller plant with a big visual impact. It’s great for a hot dry border bringing late Summer and Fall sustenance for pollinators. ‘Red Midget’ tops out at 1.5 to 2 ft tall while all yellow pinnata reaches 3 to 4 ft tall. Zones 3-7 for both of these unusual plants.

FALL

Shadblow (Amelanchier canadensis)
Allegheny Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis)

Your Amelanchier will now explode with gold, red and orange fall colors! Zones 4-8.