Try these plants to attract bees, birds, and butterflies to your North Texas garden

Warmer, drier weather means we’ll be seeing more bees, birds, and butterflies visiting our gardens. This is the perfect time to stop by your favorite garden center and pick up some pollinators to make their stops all the more productive. There’s more interest than ever in helping nature, so I thought this might be a great time to share some details.

When you search for lists of pollinator plants online, you’re going to find scores of them from all over the world. Your first goal will be to narrow the choices down to lists from your own local area. Master gardeners often have lists for their own counties, and the Texas AgriLife Extension of Texas A&M has lists for our state. Start with those.

Next, consider your landscaping needs. You won’t have any trouble finding pollinator plants. There are dozens from which to choose. The bigger challenge will be in paring the list to those that will fit into the space you have available. Make sure everything matches. Check, too, for the amount of sunlight, soil type, colors, and textures to be sure they all work together. Your plants need to function as a team.

It’s a good idea to begin with a structural framework of shrubs. Annual and perennial pollinator plants need the help of evergreen shrubs to hold things together visually 12 months a year. I’m a holly fanatic, partly because they’re so durable, but also because they’re ultra-dependable. They also bloom early in the spring, in most cases before annuals and perennials hit their prime. That gives our honeybees something to do as the season begins.

Black swallowtail on Pink Caprice lantana.
Black swallowtail on Pink Caprice lantana.

Bees, specifically honeybees, are the best known of all our pollinators. Life as we know it wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have honeybees. They work fragrant plants, especially those with tubular, nectar-filled flowers.

It’s always a good idea, when you can, to use native plants to lure honeybees into your landscape. Allergists tell us that honey from native plants helps us fight local allergies during flowering season. Some of our early summer wildflowers you might plant include coneflowers, bee balm and Indian blanket.

Some of the best bee-friendly plants for our area include lantanas, bee balms (monardas), larkspur, salvias of all kinds, verbenas, fall asters, gloriosa daisies, rosemary, crossvine, goldenrod, Gregg’s mistflower, pentstemons, Texas sage (ceniza), fruit trees, crape myrtles, and Gold Star Esperanza.

Let me interject a comment about bee stings here. Honeybees will leave you alone if you aren’t aggressive toward them. I have gardened alongside flowering plants and the bees that love them for seven decades and I have never been stung. I have hollies that bloom within 4 feet of faucets, and I think nothing of walking right past them. My wife is sensitive to their stings, so I do understand that some people must take precautions, but don’t overdo it. Bees are our friends.

Peters purple bee balm is a favorite pollinator plant.
Peters purple bee balm is a favorite pollinator plant.

Hummingbirds definitely go for the tubular flowers. It’s exciting to see them dart into the garden in search of plants like Gold Star Esperanza, flame anisacanthus (one of their favorites), pentas, Madame Galen trumpetcreeper, salvias, pentas, cupheas, morning glories and cypress vines, and another of their favorites, Turk’s cap.

Supplement the flowering plants with a high-quality hummingbird feeder kept regularly filled with a mix of four parts of water to one part sugar (no food coloring added). Change it out every three or four days during the hot weather. You’ll have a bevy of birds in your gardens from now almost until frost.

Butterflies are out there hunting for the same nectar as the hummingbirds, so many of the same plants will be attractive to them. While out taking photographs I’ve come across big batches of butterflies on vitex, lantanas, pentas, Mexican sunflowers, cosmos, firebush, butterfly weeds and milkweeds of other sorts, fall asters, coneflowers, verbenas, Gregg’s mistflower, and pride of Barbados.

Honeybees abound in Texas sage after rains.
Honeybees abound in Texas sage after rains.

Please remember, too, that some of our favorite garden plants also serve as food sources for the larvae of some of our most beautiful butterflies. Monarchs devour milkweed. Black swallowtails feed on parsley and dill. Passionvine is a food source for Gulf Frittilaries.

Tersa moths are not as beautiful as the butterflies in the eyes of most gardeners. Their larvae feed voraciously on pentas’ leaves at night. They look like little brown or green snakes along the plants’ stems, and they have what look like spooky eye spots along their bodies. I’m not into killing larvae, but I do relocate these away from my pentas as quickly as possible.