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Plants can draw bees, birds, butterflies

By Alex Bridges - abridges@nvdaily.com

Area nursery owners often know a lot about the birds and the bees -- and what plants attract them.

While many magazines and websites depict flowers and shrubs that draw insects and hummingbirds, not all plants grow in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, warned Terry Fogle, co-owner of Fort Valley Nursery & Landscape Service in Woodstock.

A person who wants to plant vegetation to attract birds or insects should plan ahead.
"I think the first thing you want to consider if you're going to plant either trees, shrubs or perennials that will attract particularly hummingbirds and butterflies is that you need a sunny location," Fogle said recently. "Butterflies, being cold-blooded, they don't go in the shade much and most of the plants that hummingbirds are attracted to are sun-lovers."
Many of the plants which attract humminbirds also may draw butterflies because both creatures seek nectar, Fogle said.

Regional perennials, plants that return annually, which attract hummingbirds and butterflies include:

• Blooming phlox
• Echinacea or cornflowers
• Verbanas
• Dianthus
• Scabiosas
• Sedums
• Perennial salvias

Shrubs which can attract butterflies include:
• Buddleias or butterfly bushes
• Lilac varieties
• Bloomerang, which blooms in the spring and the fall
• Weigela
• Spireas

Butterfly bushes used to grow very large, according to Fogle, but newer varieties remain compact and "dwarf," more approprate for homes such as duplexes and for smaller gardens. Old-fashioned lilacs also grow tall, so newer varieties exist which stay shorter.

However, Mark Sutphin, associate extension agent for horticulture in Frederick County, warned some butterfly bushes may turn invasive and reseed themselves.

Hummingbirds particularly go for plants which produce tubular or trumpet-shaped flowers, Fogle explained.

Homeowners also can plant berry-producing vegetation to attract other birds.

"There's lots of interest in plants that do attract additional kind of garden accessories," Fogle said.

The plants may also attract bees. Fogle, who has a background in entomology, noted that people should not worry about honeybees that gather around the new flowers.

"I think an advantage of promoting bees in your yard and neighborhood certainly outweighs the very, very small risk of [being stung]," Fogle explained. "Honey bees are not naturaly aggressive. You about have to step on one or squish one in your hand to get him to sting you."

Fogle warned that wasps and yellowjackets can show more aggression but the plants he suggests do not attract these kinds of bees.

Planting flowers and shrubs to draw bees, humminbirds and butterflies may do nature a favor.

"A lot of these, butterflies in particular, and hummingbirds to some extent, the populations of these guys have been marginal, particularly on some of the butterfly species over the past several years," Fogle said. "You know, anything we can do to promote their populations just in and of itself is a good thing to do for the environment, not to mention the beauty and tranquility that they add to your garden as they're flittin' around."

Sutphin echoed Fogle and noted the native bee population and hives has declined. But Sutphin advised homeowners to not plant vegetation which attract bees close to areas where people gather, such as porches.

Fogle noted that most of these plants remain in bloom for long periods of time and gardeners can enjoy the colors and aromas of the flowers and shrubs even without the added "critters."

"Diversity in the landscape is certainly a benefit to our native insects and birds and wildlife so it provides them more opportunities to feed," Sutphin said.


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