The Secret Language Of Color In The Garden

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When it comes to designing our flower and vegetable gardens, we often choose plants with aesthetically pleasing colors and qualities. Perhaps we love the scent of lavender while also appreciating the beauty of purple coneflowers dancing around our landscape.

Silver Spotted Skipper on red zinnia flower

The pollinators, however, see the world very differently. When it comes to the birds and the bees, it is important to consider how we use color in the garden. There is a reason you may see “bee havens” that are uniquely packed with only purple, violet, and blue flowers.

Did you know pollinators see colors that humans cannot even conceptualize? It’s truly fascinating! In this post, you’ll learn all about how to use color in your garden to attract a wide variety of pollinators.

Using color to attract pollinators

In order to maximize the diversity of pollinators in your garden, you will want to plant a wide selection of flowers with varying shapes and colors. Zinnias and coneflowers are two of our personal favorites.

Over time, thanks to evolution, flowers have developed bright, vibrant colors to lure pollinators to come and visit them. While we certainly enjoy admiring the various colored flowers in our garden, pollinators are the true intended audience.

Beautiful pink flower

Flowers use the secret language of color as a way of “advertising” they have the best food available. Some flowers even have certain colors that our human eyes cannot perceive!

Nature is also incredibly efficient. Flowers can change colors at different stages in their growth, attracting the attention of pollinators when the flowers need them the most.

Attracting bees with colored flowers

Did you know that bees can see colors five times faster than we do as humans? When driving quickly on the highway, the flowers by the roadside often blend into one big blur of color. This makes it impossible for us to distinguish the individual colors of each flower.

Bees, however, can see the individual colors of each flower, even when they are traveling at high speeds. This superpower gives them the ability to pollinate effectively, even when flowers are moving.

Lavender for bees

While we rely on red, blue, and green for our perception of color combinations, bees use ultraviolet, blue, and green. Bees cannot see the color red, but they’re able to see something called “the bee’s purple.” This is a special combination of yellow and UV light humans cannot perceive. The bees absolutely love our eryngium.

Learn more here about how bees see.

So, if you are looking to attract bees to your garden with flowers, try to plant shades of purple and blue. That’s not to say that bees will not flock to your red flowers as well. The shape, scent and size of flowers also contribute to the attraction of pollinators in the garden.

Attracting butterflies with colored flowers

Butterflies have an incredibly broad range of vision. While they can only see about 100 feet away, they see the world in millions of different color shades, including color variations that humans cannot perceive.

Butterflies have photoreceptors in their eyes that can detect ultraviolet light. And, many flowers have evolved over time to display unique UV patterns to attract pollinators.

These patterns act like a big arrow or bullseye, leading the butterflies straight to the nectar. It’s a win-win scenario for the butterflies and the flowers.

Butterfly on zinnia

If you are looking to attract butterflies to your garden, be sure to incorporate pinks, red, oranges, purples, and yellows.

Using color to attract birds to the garden

Birds are very sensitive to UV wavelengths, and they are very good at detecting the difference between two colors that may appear similar to the human eye. Birds also have four-dimensional color vision. It’s quite fascinating, as they can see in a level of color that humans will never know or understand.

Think of how lovely it is to birdwatch, seeing the bright array of colors flit through the garden. Birds can actually see colors in the feathers of another bird that humans cannot!

Some flowers have even evolved to deter bees while attracting hummingbirds instead. Most pollinators are considered “generalists.” This means they are not genetically programmed to visit specific flowers. Instead, they look for the best reward available, regardless of which flower it comes from.

However, plants benefit from “specialist” pollinators. These pollinators visit only a certain type of flower, which is more beneficial for the plant as they want pollen from only their own species.

Plants will compete with each other for the attention of these specialist pollinators, as it helps to maintain genetic purity.

Red and pink flowers
Zinnias in various colors.

Generally speaking, birds are attracted to the colors of their own feathers. It is important to note that white is considered a “warning” color to birds. So, planting a lot of white in your garden can deter birds. But, it will not scare them away completely.

  • Blue jays are attracted to blue flowers.
  • Goldfinches are attracted to yellow flowers.
  • Orioles are attracted to orange flowers.
  • Hummingbirds are attracted to red and pink flowers.

By spending some time paying attention to the various pollinators in your garden, you will begin to notice patterns and preferences. Some flowers with bright, unnatural colors are actually considered unattractive to pollinators.

While we may consider these flowers unique and pleasing, it is important to consider a diversity of color in the garden. Planting colorful flowers that bloom at different times throughout the year will also help keep your pollinators abundant.

By incorporating a variety of different colors in the garden, you will be rewarded with busy pollinators happy to visit your space. 🌸🐝

One Comment

  1. Love that you tie in gardening and the importance of pollinators to your pepper column! I appreciate all the information you post and email. You haven’t steered me wrong yet 🙂

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