NC State Extension Publications


Backyards and other small areas may have a limited value when managing for larger species like deer, but they are extremely valuable for many other species. With planning and a little work, these areas can easily be managed to benefit nectar-seekers such as hummingbirds and butterflies.

By promoting plant species and habitat components that are beneficial to hummingbirds and butterflies, you can insure their colorful presence. This publication highlights key steps to protect and provide the important habitat areas needed by hummingbirds and butterflies.

Getting Started

It is important to have a soil test done on potential garden sites before beginning to plant. Soil tests are free through the NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Soil Testing Lab. Soil test information and interpretive material is available from your Cooperative Extension center. Extension agents can recommend soil amendments and plants adapted to your area.

After a site is chosen, sketch out a garden plan. The plan should show the arrangement of flower groups, the location of water sources, basking areas, and if needed, artificial feeder sites. Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to sunny areas. Improve shaded garden sites by opening the canopy.

It is best to begin planting your hummingbird / butterfly garden in early spring. Concentrate on setting out hardy trees, shrubs, and vines that will not have to be replaced each year.

Plant the tallest trees and shrubs at the back borders and then work to the front of the property using sequentially shorter plant layers. For hummingbirds, select perennial plants with mature heights of at least two feet.

Hummingbird Tips

  • Use a 4:1 mixture of water and white granulated sugar in hummingbird feeders. Dissolve sugar completely by stirring in hot tap water. Allow the solution to cool before using and store the unused portion in the refrigerator. [Note: Do not use honey solutions in feeders as they tend to spoil easily and may harm the hummingbirds].
  • Avoid using insect sprays, repellents, or pesticides on or around hummingbird feeders. Apply petroleum jelly to feeder openings and on the wire from which the feeder hangs to discourage stinging insects or ants attracted to the sugar solution.
  • Hummingbirds are attracted to red objects. Apply red tape to feeder openings instead of using potentially harmful red food coloring in the sugar solution.
  • Station feeders near blossoms where hummingbirds already feed.
  • Clean feeders each week with a water/vinegar solution instead of soap.
  • Plant gardens in protected spots next to a fence or building to minimize the effects of the wind.

Butterfly Tips

  • Furnish basking stones or boards for butterflies to perch on when sunning. Provide caterpillar food sources in both sunny and shaded areas (see Caterpillar Host Plants below)
  • Allow small, unused areas to grow up with the weeds necessary for healthy butterfly caterpillars.
  • Provide damp areas; because butterflies cannot drink from open water sources, moist sand, earth, or mud provide the best watering holes.

Plantings for Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are attracted not only to sunny areas, but to red objects, so select plants with red flowers when possible. Natural plants can "fill the bill" where nectar-seekers are concerned and should be used whenever possible. The plants listed below will successfully attract hummingbirds.

Hummingbird plants.
Mimosa Black locust
Chinaberry Flowering crab
Horse chestnut Hawthorn
Butterfly bush Cardinal shrub
Flowering quince Coralberry
Wisteria shrub Weigela
Flowering currant Lilac
Trumpet creeper Honeysuckle
Clematis Yellow jasmine
Garden phlox Coral bells
Bee balm Red hot poker
Hardy fuchsia Tiger lily
Hardy hibiscus Cardinal flower
Hollyhock Columbine
Geraniums Larkspur
Indian paintbrush Jewelweed
Rose mallow Sweet William

Plantings for Butterflies

Provide the habitat components necessary for each of the four stages of the butterfly life-cycle to insure greater use by butterflies and a complete habitat; include host plants on which to lay eggs and chrysalises, caterpillar food resources, and nectar-producing flowers for adults. Successful butterfly plantings use large plantings of flowers and shrubs (butterflies locate and utilize them more efficiently) and favor single flowering plants for easy access and nectar extraction. The following table lists some food plants beneficial to butterfly offspring.

Butterfly plants.
Spice bush Caryopteris
Butterfly bush Hibiscus
Japanese wisteria Azalea
Impatiens Verbena
Wild ginger Cosmos
Bee balm Snapdragon
Petunia Amaranth
Strawberry Marigold
Foxglove Bellflower
Purple coneflower Black-eyed susan
Butterfly weed Coreopsis
Moss verbena Chives
Violet Liatris

Caterpillar host plants.
Milkweed Common pawpaw
Thistle Tulip poplar
Nettle Spicebush
Clover Wild aster
Queen Anne's lace Goldenrod
Wild lupine Black cherry
American elm
Butterfly weed Rue
Parsley Dill
Fennel Passion flower


Extension Forestry Specialist
Forestry & Environmental Resources
Associate Director and State Program Leader, ANR and CRD

Publication date: Jan. 1, 1994

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