bees and pollination

Pollinator Habitat Restoration for the Home Gardener, Part 2: Butterflies and Hummingbirds

By Hope Johnson (Part 2 of a series. See Part 1 to learn about promoting bee habitat)

Of 339 species of hummingbirds, only two inhabit the area East of the Mississippi-the very rare Rufous and common Ruby-throated hummingbirds. There are many butterfly species in our state  (see Vermont Center for Ecostudies’ Vermont Butterfly Survey and The Butterfly Site’s List of Butterflies of Vermont).

Both Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to nectar-rich flowers.  Butterflies prefer purple and yellow flowers and hummingbirds are attracted more to red and blue. Site your nectar plants in an open area of the yard, and be sure to include host plants which provide forage for caterpillars. Remember, some butterflies don’t live on nectar from flowers but instead feed on soft and over-ripe fruit. (See The Nature Conservancy’s Gardening with Vermont Native Plants.)

Wondering what to plant? Here's a list of Top Ten flowers for Hummingbirds and Butterflies:

1.  Yellow cosmos

2. Phlox: Meadow phlox, P. maculata and Garden phlox P. paniculata.

3. Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis

4. Goldenrods, Solidago spp.,  attract monarchs.

5. Butterfly weed, Asclepius tuberosa.

6. Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea.

7. Columbines, Aquilegia spp.

8. Scarlet sage, Salvia splendens.

9. Red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, small tree.

10. Spiderflower, Cleome.

What else do butterflies and hummingbirds need? Water! Hummingbirds naturally use the smooth leaves of deciduous trees such as dogwoods, eastern redbud and sugar maple as birdbaths, but also appreciate misting sprinklers. For drinking, butterflies require a thin film of water such as around puddle edges or in slight depressions on rock surfaces.

What else can we do to provide habitat? Butterflies roost in trees and some hibernate in the winter. Leave sites for overwintering such as sheltered spots where caterpillars or pupae can survive the cold weather. Leaf and plant debris shelter chrysalises and pupae and provide a hibernation box in areas devoid of natural debris. Native shade trees provide protection from hot sun, heavy winds and driving rain. Consider a hedgerow for protection from prevailing winds. Perennials with wide leaves such as hosta provide cover for butterflies. In the East, nest sites for hummingbirds include common native trees such as oaks, hickories junipers, hemlocks and pines. Open branching shrubs such as spicebush (Lindera benzoin), hawthorns (Crataegus spp) and willow (Salix spp) are preferred for perching sites. You can provide a source of nesting materials by putting out a suet feeder filled with natural fibers such as cotton fluff and small feathers.

Lastly, avoid use entirely of insecticides in gardens intended for butterflies. These include malathion, Sevin and diazinon. Bacillus thuringiensis is lethal to caterpillars. Most butterfly caterpillars do not cause the leaf damage like that made by tent caterpillars and gypsy moths. Let those butterfly caterpillars do their thing and watch as these pollinators enjoy your garden!


Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies, The Xerces Society Guide, Storey Publishing, 2011.

Attracting Butterflies and Hummingbirds to Your Backyard, Roth, Sally.   Rodale, Inc., 2001.

Website: How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden, National Wildlife Federation,


What Can I Plant for a Little Early Color Around the House?

It's been a pretty cold spring in Vermont this year. I cannot remember a spring like this in recent memory, with night temperatures dipping into the twenties in mid-April and day time temperatures hovering in the low 40's. Many of our customers are ready for some color around the house, and it's still not safe to put out hanging baskets, or most annuals for that matter.

What I suggest for early spring containers is a selection of cold hardy plants, especially the ones that seem unusual in containers, but will feed the need for signs of life around the yard!

The following plants are just great for a year like this and look really cute mixed together.

  • Violas and pansies
  • Allysum
  • Cold hardy herbs such as parsley, chervil, mint (ginger mint cascades down the side of the container), cilantro, dill. The textures and different greens at dimension to the arrangements. Plus you can snip at them and bring them into the kitchen for some spring time flavor boosts.
  • Colorful kales such as Redbor and Red Russian.
  • Fennel - the bulb kind or the bronze herb kind
  • Lettuces - especially the green oak, red oak, and cherokee red batavian
  • Frisee endive - it has a lovely frilled edge, and an unusual lime green color.

The beauty of this kind of planter is that it is multi-purpose. The violas and pansies and their "companion" foliage are all edible. What a nice gift for someone special, or a treat for yourself to celebrate the slow unfurling of spring.

Plants for Honey Bees





Hyacinth Bean Vine



Scarlet Runner Bean


















Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)

Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed)

Verbena bonariensis

Lemon Balm






Perovskia (Russian Sage)


Salix (Willows)

Sambucus (Elderberry)

Physocarpus (Nine Bark)

Lyng's Giant Grey Stripe Sunflower

Fennel, Bronze Leaf

In general, bees like plants whose colors have alot of contrast and they go out to feed off one type of plant at a time, so it is a good idea to plant multiple plants of one type in an area. Creating a pollinator friendly garden will not only help the bees, but will also help your yields in the vegetable and fruit garden. The more pollinators come visiting the better your will see it in the fruit set of squashes, cucumbers, melons, etc. Pollinator gardens help the bees, help our food supply and add beauty to our worlds.

Please visit the resources section of our garden journal for a growing list of resources pertaining to bees and pollination.

Planting the Perfect Pumpkin

We all want that giant, magical pumpkin come harvest time.  Here are a few tips to get you there.  Pumpkins are related to cucumbers, melons, summer squash, zucchini, and winter squashes and all of the vegetables in this family will benefit from this treatment. Warm soil. In Vermont wait until early June to put out the plants--a good rule of thumb is to wait until we have had a few nights above 50 F degrees. Transplants do better than seeds since you will have a head start on the season and don't risk having seeds rot in cold soil or be eaten by the local rodent.  It's best to keep two plants together when transplanting since the larger volume of foliage will help shade out weeds later in the season.

A raised bed or mound. This will help warm the soil and improve drainage.  It also gives the plants' shallow roots a place full or looser soil to spread without strain.

Lots of fertility. Compost is a  must for successful pumpkins, squashes, cucumbers and melons.  At home, we use rotted donkey manure (thanks to Pokey and Rosy) mixed with well composted yard debris (leaves, grass clippings) and food scraps.  More can be learned about compost at the Vermont Compost Company website.  A little granular fertilizer can be used as well if you do not have access to good compost and/or very poor soils.  A soil test is always a good idea, and can be done easily at your local extension office.

Adequate water. One inch a week.  That means that if it does not rain, you should gently pour about 3 gallons of water at the base of your plants.  A slow drip irrigation system or soaker hose is a great option as well.

Full sun. There is no compromise on this one.  The plants must have at least 8 to 10 hours of full sunlight.

Lots of room.  Plants (actually, groups of 2 plants) should be at least 3 feet apart. They need that much space for proper ventilation and so that the flowers and foliage are exposed to pollinators and sunlight.

Pollination. Plant a few bee friendly plants such as calendula, borage, mint and salvias around your garden to attract bees and other beneficial insects.  Cucurbit plants have male and female flowers on each plant and have to be pollinated by insects.  Welcoming bees to your garden will help yields since more female flowers will become pollinated--the only way for them to produce fruit.

Harvest at the right time. Winter squashes and pumpkins should be harvested when the skins are hard and cannot be pierced by your thumbnail.  Summer squashes and cucumbers and zucchini should be harvested at whatever stage you like to eat them, from baby to baseball bats.  Watermelons are harvested when the tendrils on either side of the attaching stem are dead and the yellow spot on the bottom of the fruit (where it rests on the ground) is a deep yellow, and when thunking the fruit with your knuckle produces a hollow sound.  Cantaloupes are ready when they slip off the vine with a gentle tug (called the "half slip stage").  Melons take a little trial and error to learn to harvest at the right time, but a good rule of thumb is "if in doubt, wait."