The best part of cultivating flowers and fruit trees up in the High Country is the welcomed friends that come to see your handiwork. I get so excited when I see the first hummingbird of Spring make its way back up from Mexico to visit my feeders and flowers. The variety of butterflies up in Payson compared to Phoenix astounds me, and I am always happy to see the native bees, whose populations are dwindling, that fly around my parent’s fruit trees and gardens.
If you want to welcome nectar loving creatures into your gardens, now is the time to start looking for their favorite treats to plant. Hummingbirds love trumpet and tubular shaped, bright-colored flowers, and there are many drought tolerant flowers that will add color to your garden while also providing the high energy sucrose for the little jewel birds. Plant penstemon, salvia (or commonly known as sage), honey suckle, columbine, and paintbrush. If you are particularly generous, put out a variety of feeders for the birds. Each male hummingbird is very territorial, and will guard his feeder and/or flowers, but will allow females to feed. Hummingbirds also rely on the protein of insects and spiders, but need the instant energy that nectar provides for their bug hunting escapades. My grandma has always sworn that her hummingbirds only fed from feeders that contained C&H sugar water, and from research I’ve discovered she was correct in that the hummingbirds greatly prefer cane sugar to regular generic table sugar which may be made from beet sugar. The cane sugar contains the same sucrose that natural nectar supplies. To make your own affordable nectar, combine 4 parts hot clean water, to 1 part cane sugar, mix well, and place in your very clean humming bird feeder. The nectar need not be colored, as long as the feeder has red coloration to attract the birds. Do not use artificial sweeteners or honey in the nectar as these can end up poisoning the birds either by chemicals or the mold and fungus that feeds on these sweeteners. Be sure to keep your feeder clean on a regular basis with hot water, and a little vinegar if needed, just be sure to rinse well, and be very cautious with detergents. Hang your feeders under trees so that the birds may perch protected while keeping guard over their feeders.
Another important factor when welcoming hummingbirds and other colorful winged creatures to your garden is to avoid harsh pesticides which can poison not only the insects in your garden but also the birds and lizards that feed on them. Keep a few of the less obnoxious spider webs around as the hummingbirds use the sticky silk to create their nests. Pesticides can also kill off the beautiful multi colored butterflies that are so welcomed up in the high country, and they are also contributing to the very scary declines of the honey bee populations through out the U.S. Most of our population is unaware of how essential these winged pollinators (bees especially, but also moths, butterflies, and even hummingbirds) are to our food sources. My apple trees alone, must have the presence of bees to cross pollinate, otherwise, we will see no fruit this fall.
Both wild and honey bees love small flowers created by planted herbs including rosemary, thyme, and basil, along with beautifully blooming lavender and nasturtium. Even the common flowering weed is a great source of nectar for bees.
For attracting butterflies to your garden, you can plant items that both attract the adult butterflies but also attract the juvenile caterpillars. Plants that attract caterpillars include red oak trees, hollyhock flowers, cosmos, zinnia, milkweed, and red clover. The adult flying flowers love the following flowering plants: butterfly bush, milk weed, coneflower, goldenrod, asters, violets, and coreopsis. Butterflies need a lot of sun light to warm their cold blooded bodies, so plant in open sunny places, incorporate rock gardens that can also provide a warm resting spot. Also be sure to leave cool, damp shaded areas where the butterflies can hydrate and cool off in our hot afternoons.
Ask the local nursery to show you through their stock of plants when choosing the appropriate flowers, herbs, and shrubs. There are so many available that will thrive even in low water environments once established, however, if just now planting, be sure to keep them hydrated while they are taking root in our extremely warm afternoons. If your yard is extremely sunny and dry, you may want to wait until monsoon season before trying to establish new plants. And again remember to take a few moments to observe and enjoy your garden guests this summer.