Butterfly Gardening
This is my site Written by Geoff on June 1, 2004 – 4:55 pm

We have discussed, in past Yard Talks, how rewarding it is to have at least one Butterfly Garden in your landscape. There is just something soothing and peaceful about watching butterflies drifting from flower to flower collecting nectar. What better way to relax after a stressful day than to sit and observe nature at it’s best. In today’s fast paced world, everyone should have a Butterfly Garden. 

Butterfly Gardens are even easy and fun to make. The first step is to take a leisurely stroll through nature to find out just what butterflies live around you. There is no sense spending time trying to attract those that are not natural to the area. Visit a local park or take a drive through the countryside on a sunny day. Keep track of not only what species are found but, their location, such as wet meadows, sunny fields, partial shade, or riverbanks. This will help you not only in deciding what species to try attracting but, where to locate your garden. The Golden Guide to Butterflies and Moths is an excellent field guide to take along, small and easy to use. 

You need to also make note of what type of plants the butterflies are flitting around. It also would be very beneficial if you can find the plant species the butterfly’s larva are feeding on. Butterfly larva eat very specific plants and female butterflies will only lay their eggs on these. No eggs mean no larva, that translates into no butterflies. 

Almost everyone knows that the Monarch Butterfly’s larvae (AdultLarvaePupae) feed on the milkweed and the Cabbage Butterfly’s larvae (Adult,LarvaePupae) feed on members of the cabbage family. Lessor known is that the Black Swallowtail’s larva (AdultLarvaePupae) feed only on members of the dill family and that the Zebra Swallowtail’s larvae (AdultLarvaePupae) will only dine on the pawpaw. If you cannot find where the larva are feeding, there are many excellent butterfly books, such as, Barbara Ellis’s excellent book, “Attracting Birds and Butterflies.” 

When providing plants for the larva, remember the purpose of these plants is to be eaten. This means no pesticides or insecticides. In fact, no insecticides should be used anywhere near a butterfly garden and this includes your lawn. You will be amazed how many more butterflies you will see just by eliminating insecticide usage. 

Most butterflies like sunny locations protected from the wind. A sunny area close to a wood line or hedgerow is ideal. A fence can be used also to provide an artificial windbreak. If there is a creek or other water source near by, so much the better. 

If no natural water is close by, we would suggest providing an artificial source for moisture such as birdbath with flat stones, for landing, or a small garden pond. The pond should be shallow, 1-2 inches, with many resting places, and of course no fish. A quick and easy butterfly pond can be made by taking a plastic garbage can lid, inverting it, weight it down with bricks, and fill it with water. 

Butterflies feed on plants high in nectar. We have found species of nepata and eupatorium are excellent sources of nectar. In fact, many of the culinary herbs, such as borage, sage, and the oregano’s can be used in the Butterfly Garden. 

Flowers with short petals, plumes, or flat tops, like most of the sedum’s, are butterfly favorites. Also, butterflies are attracted by bright colors such as red, orange, yellow, and purple. Here some of the annuals such as cosmos, four o’clocks, or cleome are very useful. 

Make sure when you plan your garden you include some creature comforts such as, a comfortable bench or chair. Bring along a good book, such as Grace from the Garden by Debra Landwehr Engle, sit back and feel your cares melt away. Butterfly watching is very relaxing and habit forming.

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Modified: March 7, 2009 at 4:56 pm UTC

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