Real Estate: Pots, planters help attract bashful birds and butterflies

07/07/2012 11:00 AM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Colorful Garden manager Geovanny Canel talks about how the Tutti Fruti Agastache attracts hummingbirds with its trumpet shaped flowers and sweet aroma.

North Forkers who don’t have much gardening space can still create a hummingbird or butterfly sanctuary.

Shrubs and flowers that will attract the beautiful yet somewhat bashful creatures can thrive in pots and planters as well as in the ground. Most have fragrant and colorful flowers as well and are sold at nurseries across the North Fork.

Hummingbird expert Paul Adams, a neuroscience teacher at Stony Brook University, said there are several ways gardeners can attract hummingbirds.

Dr. Adams, who operates The Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary on Terry Farm Road, said the black and blue salvia plant is the best hummingbird magnet, because it contains the most nectar.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A container designed and planted by Geovanny Canel to attract hummingbirds and butterflies: Tutti Frutti agastache (tallest center), (from left) black flower geranium sidvides, red salvia, and angelonia.

Over at Colorful Gardens nursery, which is located on Route 25 in Jamesport, manager Geovanny Canel confirmed that black and blue salvia is the most sought after plant among those looking to attract hummingbirds.

The plant’s trumpet-shaped flowers are ideal for hummingbirds, who like to dip in their beaks and sip nectar, he said.

One of the tallest butterfly-attracting plants sold at the nursery is bee balm, which grows about three feet tall. Even though it’s a big plant, Mr. Canel said, it can stay in a pot.

Mr. Canel said he’s noticed a trend among customers looking for plants to attract hummingbirds and butterflies over the past few years.

“They come back and purchase more after hummingbirds and butterflies start coming to their plants,” he said.

Dr. Adams also recommends the red cardinal flower, native to Long Island, to attract hummingbirds.

“It’s a superb hummingbird flower, but you must keep it wet,” he said. “They are found along the banks of the Peconic River … wherever it grows naturally you’ll see hummingbirds.”

Although hummingbirds will typically visit a red flower first if they come across a group of different colored flowers, Dr. Adams said a hummingbird’s preference for the fiery color doesn’t mean it won’t drop in at blooms of other hues.

“They will go to the red flower first, but they won’t return unless it has nectar,” Dr. Adams said. “It’s true you’ll see them go to those flowers, but they won’t linger and they won’t return. Hummingbirds aren’t very interested in aesthetics. They just want nectar.”

If you want to check to see if a plant will attract hummingbirds, Dr. Adams suggests pulling off a flower, looking at its base and seeing if there’s a droplet of nectar.

He said a lot of plants that attract hummingbirds do well in containers and gives gardeners the option of planting tropical species. They just need to be brought inside during the winter.

PHOTO COURTESY KLAUS-DIETER SCHLEIM | A hummingbird feeds at Salvia guaranitica (anise sage) at the hummingbird sanctuary in Baiting Hollow.

On the tropical front, Nancy Leskody of Trimble’s Nursery in Cutchogue suggests a dark-green, fuzzy-leafed plant with deep purple flowers. It’s called tibouchina urvilleana, commonly known as the princess flower.

This tropical plant blooms from June through September and grows 12 to 15 feet tall and five to six feet wide. So, for this one, you’ll need a huge pot.

Ms. Leskody said people who live in condos or apartments needn’t worry that they’ll see fewer hummingbirds or butterflies than their friends with big yards.

“I don’t think hummingbirds or butterflies care if the plants are in a pot or in the ground,” Ms. Leskody said. “They are just happy being around flowers.”

Due to the demand for such plants, Ms. Leskody said she’s created handouts listing all types of plants that hummingbirds and butterflies love.

If you see bees or moths hanging around a particular plant, she said, that’s a good indication the butterflies will like it, too.

It’s also good to plant things that will attract caterpillars, she said, noting that parsley is a caterpillar’s favorite food. And it only takes is a tiny amount of soil to grow it.

“They are attracted to different plants at different stages of their lives,” she added of the insect.

Ornamental Plantings on Route 48 in Southold offers pre-potted shrubs specifically to attract butterflies.

Jane Welz, a part-time employee there, recommends that gardeners trim dead leaves and branches from the plants in order to stimulate growth.

One of the butterfly bushes Ornamental Plantings offers is the buddleia, also known as the pink delight. Its branches are thick and pink flowers appear when it’s in full bloom. The smallest shrub at the nursery that butterflies like is called adonis blue.

And if you’re interested in growing vines on your deck to attract hummingbirds, Dr. Adams recommends planting trumpet vine or honeysuckle.

Even if you follow all these tips and don’t see any results right away, experts say, don’t get discouraged.

“You don’t see that many hummingbirds this time of year because they are feeding their young, building nests and catching insects,” Dr. Adams said.

His sanctuary isn’t even open to the public until August (visit for daily hours of operation) because it isn’t until then that hummingbirds begin to appear regularly.

“They are such a joy and fun to watch,” he said. “It’s just spectacular when they pass your head at 50 miles per hour.”

If you’ve still had no luck by late summer, Dr. Adams suggests hanging a small feeder filled with sugar water near your flowers to increase the chances of a hummingbird visit.

But, more important, Dr. Adams said you should place flowers in an area where you spend a lot of your time.

“It can be in front of a window or out on a deck,” Dr. Adams said. “Just read a book, then all of a sudden you’ll hear ‘buzz’ and see one. If you see one, freeze. You can still talk, but move slowly.”

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