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Hummingbirds and Butterflies Abound at Biltmore

Posted on 07/14/2017 by Leeann Donnelly

Summertime is when some of our tiniest, most delicate guests come for an estate visit. Drawn to the large colorful patches of zinnias and bee balm, hummingbirds and butterflies flutter and dart around garden beds brimming with flowers planted there months earlier just for them.

The gardens in Antler Hill Village are particularly abuzz with these pretty creatures. Dusty Hafer, a crew member on Biltmore’s horticulture team, plans the planting beds for the village area, and he deliberately includes plants that attract hummingbirds and butterflies.


We asked Dusty for some tips on what plants the home gardener can plant to attract their own tiny visitors, and what’s working well in the village’s gardens.

“Variety is key to attracting butterflies and hummingbirds,” Dusty says. “Each has different preferences, so more garden variety yields more wildlife variety. Not only that, plant variety throughout the growing season is key. Layering your garden with overlapping bloom times will result in having the most options available throughout the year.”

According to Dusty, here’s what’s attracting butterflies and hummingbirds to Antler Hill Village right now. 

  • Bee balm (monarda didyma) – Its red tubular flowers are a hummingbird favorite, but butterflies love it as well. After the first flush of flowers fade, cut the plant back about halfway and to get additional flowering later in the summer.
  • Butterfly Bush – This species has a long bloom time, from spring through frost in the fall. It’s also a great choice if your gardening space is small. Hummingbirds like it just as butterflies do. Dusty warns that some species of the plant can become invasive, so select a sterile cultivar.
  • Salvia gauranitica 'black and blue' – Another Hummingbird favorite that has a fairly long bloom time.  
  • Verbena bonariensis – This one doubles as a nectar plant and host plant to a few species. It self-seeds, but will take over if you don’t pull its seedlings from places where you don’t want it. Goldfinches are also drawn to the seeds.
  • Ironweed 'Iron Butterfly' (vernonia lettermannii 'Iron Butterfly') – Butterflies love this newer, very attractive, cultivar of native ironweed.
  • Scabiosa 'Butterfly Blue' – Another butterfly favorite with a very long bloom time. Trim spent blooms to encourage better re-blooming and a tidy look.
  • Zinnias – A wide variety of zinnias is on the market in different sizes, colors, and flower types and most are very attractive to both butterflies and hummingbirds. Put them out after danger of frost has passed and they will bloom practically non-stop until the first frost in the fall.

Dusty suggested additional strategies to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

  • Host plants – Include host plants for butterflies to lay their eggs and for their caterpillars to use as a food source. “Each species of butterfly has certain plants it will use as a host plant,” Dusty says. Monarch butterflies, for example, only use milkweeds, and they prefer certain milkweeds over others. Other good host plants for other types of butterflies are pansies, violets, fennel, hollyhock, switchgrasses, tall verbena, maypop, tulip poplar, black cherry, oaks, ash, and willows.
  • Water sources – Though hummingbirds are too small to use the depth of water in a typical bird bath, they love moving, splashing water, so consider a bird bath with a falling water feature. Mist stations also attract hummingbirds.  A small pond with a waterfall is another good option. Butterflies land on wet patches of soil where they get water and minerals. Dusty says you can place a very shallow dish in the garden and fill it with sand and pebbles to create a puddling station. Water it often enough to keep it thoroughly moist and butterflies will love it.

Featured image: Hummingbird with Crocosmia plant

--First photo:   Butterfly with Butterfly Bush 

--Second photo: Butterfly with Gomphrena

--Third photo: Hydrangea

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