Attracting butterflies, hummingbirds to a Virginia Beach garden


VIRGINIA BEACH — Hummingbirds fascinate us and butterflies delight us, but how do you lure them into your garden?

It’s not hard, local gardeners and butterfly enthusiasts say, if you select the right plants and remember a few basic facts. 

First, whenever possible, plant native plants. They are not only well-suited to local growing conditions, but they appeal to the butterflies that are likely to migrate to this area, according to Paul Oettel, a member of the board of directors of the Butterfly Society of Virginia

Secondly, learn both the common names and the scientific names of the plants, said Ruth Burch, also a member of the society and a Virginia Beach Master Gardener.  

When you shop, look for plants primarily by their scientific names because nurseries sometimes assign the same common name to different plants, so it’s hard to be sure what you’re getting, Burch added.

Third, think in terms of bright colors, said Jessie Basso, a Virginia Beach Master Gardener and a Courthouse resident.  Basso attracts hummingbirds to her yard with natives such as cardinal flower, or lobelia cardinialis, beardtongue, or penstemon,  and native salvias. 

Hummingbirds start to arrive in this area in the early spring before many of the plants that they feed on are in bloom, so Basso suggests putting out hummingbird feeders. These attract the birds, and then the blooming plants coax them into staying all season and returning the next year.

“I have a family of hummingbirds that have been coming back for 10 years,” Basso said.  “The ones that come back now are probably the offspring of the first ones. The male will arrive around April 1, and the female arrives a little later.”

With ruby-throated hummingbirds, it’s easy to identify males and females because it’s the adult males that have the bright red throats, Basso said. 

Despite their small size and perceived shyness, hummingbirds are actually quite bold, Basso said, and their antics are a delight to watch. 

“They’re curious about everything,” Basso said, adding that the young explore their environment, even flying close to bumblebees to learn more about them.  Females can also become aggressive when protecting their young, and Basso has observed the mother attacking and chasing away much larger birds that came too close to her nest. 

Other plants that attract hummingbirds include the canna indica, or Indian shot, the crocosmia, and the more familiar bee balm, zinnia, and trumpet creeper.

Many of the same plants that attract hummingbirds also attract butterflies, Burch said, and she particularly recommends the crossvine, or capreolata, and the coral honeysuckle, which unlike the invasive honeysuckles is native to the area.

“You want blooms from the early spring to the fall to create a working habitat for the butterflies,” Burch said. 

“You need both nectar plants and host plants,” said Oettel, adding that the butterflies feed on nectar plants and lay their eggs on the host plants.

Milkweeds are often planted to attract monarch butterflies while swallowtails like parsley,  fennel, rube, Queen Anne’s lace and vivia.  salvias,  cardinal flowers, and black-eyed susans  also attract butterflies, Burch and Oettel said.  

Sassafrass trees, tulip poplars, and native black cherry trees serve as host plants, but many non-native plants, including the Japanese maple, do not, Oettel said. 

The Butterfly Society of Virginia holds plant sales, festivals, and other events locally throughout the year.  For more information about the society, visit

© 2016 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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