All About Gardening and Gardening Q & A by Pernell Gerver

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"The Best Hummingbird & Butterfly Plants"

Hummingbirds are some of the most fascinating forms of wildlife that frequent the garden. Their swift flight as they zip from flower to flower in search of nectar is almost dizzying to watch and yet they seem to hang nearly motionless in mid air when they find a flower they like and begin feeding. The wings of hummingbirds beat at a very rapid pace, making them a blur and creating the distinct humming sound that gives them their name.

Attracting hummingbirds to the garden is a rewarding experience. A hummingbird garden is rich in color, both from the plants as well as the tiny birds. There are dozens of different plants that help attract hummingbirds to the garden and incorporating them into the garden or creating an entire garden with these plants will ensure these tiny, fascinating creatures return year after year.

All the hummingbird plants are attractive garden plants as well and even if they didn't attract hummingbirds, they deserve a place in the garden. There are annuals, perennials, vines, and shrubs that attract hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds derive most of their food from the nectar contained in flowers. They prefer flowers that are tubular, brightly colored, and scentless. Red, pink, and orange flowers are preferred. There are many different annual flowers that provide these types and colors of flowers including impatiens, petunia, and zinnia to name just a few. Impatiens bears single, flat flowers atop a mound of foliage. Petunia is a low, trailing annual that bears large, cup-shaped flowers. Growing them in a hanging basket brings the hummingbirds up to eye level, making the birds easier to watch. Zinnia is also a favorite annual flower of hummingbirds and red zinnias are especially attractive to them.

Many perennials are rich in nectar the hummingbirds love. Columbine and tall garden phlox are just two of their favorites. Columbine is a spring- and early-summer-blooming perennial that bears spurred flowers in bright colors. Tall garden phlox bears large clusters of single flowers atop tall stems in summer.

Trumpet vine, also known as "the hummingbird vine," is one of the best vines for attracting hummingbirds. They love its long, tubular, orange flowers that are rich in nectar. It blooms in mid to late summer.

Attracting butterflies to the garden is a beautiful and fascinating experience. Whether sunning on a warm rock or floating lazily from flower to flower in search of food, these winged visitors add beauty and grace to the garden. Fortunately, butterflies are attracted to many plants that are attractive to gardeners as well. Many of the plants that act as host plants for caterpillars and nectar sources for the adult butterfly are common garden flowers.

There are some common perennials such as veronica and butterfly weed that serve as food sources for certain caterpillars. Veronica is a food source for the Baltimore checkerspot caterpillar. Butterfly weed, botanically known as Asclepias tuberosa, is a food source for the monarch caterpillar. Sassafras trees and spicebush are the primary food source for the spicebush swallowtail caterpillar. Parsley and dill are favorite food plants of the parsleyworm - the caterpillar of the black swallowtail butterfly.

Contrary to proper horticultural practices, allowing weeds to grow in the garden is quite beneficial for butterflies. Many weeds act as host plants for the female butterfly to lay her eggs. The young caterpillars then feed on the host plant. If you don't want to have weeds in flower beds, set aside an area for weeds away from the other plantings.

Many caterpillars only feed on specific plants. For instance, the caterpillar of the monarch butterfly only feeds on milkweeds.

There are many common annual flowers that are good sources of nectar for butterflies. Impatiens, heliotrope, lantana, pentas, cosmos, marigold, false heather (known as cuphea), and zinnia are all favorites of butterflies.

Perennials, such as purple coneflower, daisies, New England aster, tall garden phlox, and coreopsis also provide nectar for butterflies.

Wildflower nectar sources include Queen Anne's lace, Joe Pye weed, clover, butterfly weed, thistle, and milkweed.

The top choice for shrubs is Buddleia davidii, commonly known as the butterfly bush. When in bloom, this shrub attracts dozens of butterflies. Other shrubs to choose are lilac, azalea, and privet.

Choose a combination of flowers that provide consistent blooming throughout the season. The nectar in single flowers is easier for the butterfly to extract.

At my free gardening workshop this week I’ll have a large selection of hummingbird and butterfly plants for sale. See the "If You Go" box for more information.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Don't Prune Weeping Cherry Trees"

Young weeping cherry tree


Q. I read an article on not pruning a weeping cherry tree. I have one that is only 5 years old and as you can see from my picture, some of the branches stick straight out and do not weep. What can I do about this? My husband is ready to chop the branches off at the trunk, but I am trying to find out if that is the best idea or not. Please help me before he ruins my tree.


My mature weeping cherry tree


A. Weeping cherry is a magnificient tree, especially a mature, old specimen. Its graceful, arching branches are covered with pale-pink blossoms in spring. In full bloom, it looks like a fountain of pink. In my garden I underplanted the tree with daffodils and the two combine for a beautiful springtime scene when in full bloom.

A weeping cherry tree is best left unpruned. It attains its most attractive shape when allowed to grow naturally. When young, it will send up upright branches in the center of the tree as well as branches that grow outward horizontally from the trunk. Resist the urge to cut away these branches. The young, upright branches and those that grow horizontally outward are what give the tree its height and width when mature and they will eventually weep downward as the tree ages. Pruning anywhere on the outward or upward branches will cause it to branch out where it was cut, creating more side branches, ruining the eventual shape of the tree.


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