Besides adding beauty to the landscape, gardens that are creatively designed and well-tended can increase the value of property. Some gardens provide food for the table and others furnish cut flowers for indoor enjoyment. On larger properties these special feature gardens break up the monotony of lawn and reduce mowing time. Blending your garden into the surrounding landscape will also help to minimize habitat fragmentation effects.
If you do not own property, you can still enjoy a small-scale garden by arranging planters and potted flowers on the balcony or deck of your apartment, townhouse, or condominium. Specialty gardens attract certain kinds of wildlife, which serve to enhance viewing pleasure. Butterfly, hummingbird, and native prairie gardens are well suited to this purpose. This chapter will offer suggestions on how to create them.
North America is home to more than 700 species of butterflies. At least 200 of them occur in Michigan and the Midwest including swallowtails, skippers, satyrs, sulphurs, and cabbage butterflies along with the monarch, painted lady, comma, red-spotted purple, and red admiral. Adult butterflies are most attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink, and purple flowers that grow in sunny locations and that offer an easy source of nectar. Butterfly caterpillars will use at least 175 kinds of Midwest plants, nearly 50 of which are also excellent for attracting bees. Several kinds of moths, including hummingbird clearwings, night- and day-flying sphinx species, prometheas, and cecropias, are also regularly attracted to butterfly gardens.
Example of a Butterfly Garden
A butterfly garden can quickly become the prize feature of your yard. Options include developing the garden around a theme like native prairie wildflowers or native woodland wildflowers. There are four key factors to creating a successful butterfly garden: (1) location, (2) plant composition/nectar sources for adult butterflies, (3) caterpillar habitat, and (4) avoiding insecticide use.
Example of a Butterfly Herb Garden
Hummingbirds pollinate more than 160 native North American plants. Because of their extremely high metabolism, hummingbirds consume daily up to one-half their body weight in food and as much as eight times their body weight in fluids. Besides feeding on flower nectar, the ruby-throated hummingbird (the only hummingbird species found in Michigan) also eats small insects. Usually attracted to red, tubular flowers, hummingbirds also use a wide variety of other flowers. Thus, you can add both diversity and color to your yard while providing excellent sources of nectar and small insects for hummingbirds. Incidentally, because orioles use many of the same plants as hummingbirds, your hummingbird garden may provide additional habitat for them and increase your viewing pleasure.
Unlike butterflies, hummingbirds find sources of food regardless of sun or shade. However, the plants themselves can have specific sunlight requirements. So, when planning the location of your hummingbird garden, consider the sunlight requirements or limitations of the plants you wish to highlight there. You may also want to consider visibillity. Because hummingbirds are highly territorial, you might want to locate plants throughout your yard, in addition to the specialized garden.
You may also want to supplement natural nectar with hummingbird feeders near the garden and around the house. Place feeders in the shade and change the mixture of one part sugar (do not use honey) to four parts boiling water every three to five days. Cool the mixture before filling the feeder, and store the excess in the refrigerator. If the mixture in the feeder has spoiled (a black fungus or very cloudy water are clues), clean it with a small amount of vinegar mixed with water, then allow to dry thoroughly before refilling. Because they are migratory species, you only have to keep the sugar solution available from April to September.
In addition to sunlight requirements, be aware of other characteristics of your plant choices. Trumpet creeper, for example, is an attractive plant to hummingbirds, but it requires a fence or other structure on which to climb. Place vines and shrubs to the back, working down in height toward the front of the garden. Spread your blooming season as much as possible. Adding a few annuals to the variety of early- to late-blooming perennials will give the garden a head start. Refer to the accompanying list of plants that will provide both nectar and insects for hummingbirds. Also, realize insecticides not only kill the small insects that hummingbirds use for food, but large doses of insecticides can be directly lethal to the birds themselves.
Native Prairie Gardens
Native prairie grasses and wildflowers are a shrinking resource in Michigan, and they attract a large number of wildlife species. In fact, there are many species that can only survive on native grasses and wildflowers. Wildlife benefit most when the mixture of warm season grasses and wildflowers occurs in stands of 40 acres or more. However, even small plantings in backyard gardens can help wildlife and are also attractive. Native prairie gardens, as well as the other gardens mentioned above, reduce mowing time and add visual enjoyment, even in winter as the grasses stand up to snow. Some wildflowers, such as coreopsis, provide winter seed for goldfinches and other birds.
Because most native grasses and wildflowers do best on upland sites, locate this garden in a sunny to partly shaded, well-drained location. The accompanying panel is a list of good plants to consider. If the site you have in mind is moist, big bluestem and switchgrass will likely establish without problems but you might also want to add prairie and curly dock, swamp milkweed, native impatiens, sedges, and mints. A nursery expert should be able to help you with your plant selections.
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Last Revised: May 5, 2000