Originally Published: August 10, 2007 9:59 p.m.
I have watched thousands of butterflies over the years and they never cease to delight and amaze me. This week at the garden center, I got this great shot of a butterfly enjoying a little sip from the nectar of a butterfly bush. Flowers and butterflies naturally go together, so garden centers are like a butterfly nirvana or day spa; however, butterflies are equally easy to attract to your own yard.
A butterfly garden is easy to grow if you choose and plant flowers with butterflies in mind. When you design and plant a butterfly garden, it is important to provide larval foods as well as nectar for the adults. Many flowers attract colorful butterflies with their nectar while certain other plants serve as necessary food sources for the butterfly larvae or caterpillars. As you set out the butterfly welcome mat in your yard, you also might like to enhance it with certain butterfly-friendly environmental features. Following is an easy 4-step plan to a garden filled with flowers and butterfly fun throughout your yard.
Caterpillars need to grow wings: Butterflies are large insects, therefore, the larvae need to eat a lot to bulk up to size. With this in mind, be prepared for some damage to your larval food plants. This is normal and the plants will survive. The herbs parsley, dill and fennel are some of their favorite foods as well as milkweed and butterfly weed. You also will find these baby butterflies-to-be munching away at the leaves of your Virginia Creeper vine and hollyhocks. If the chewed look bothers you, consider planting these in an out-of-the-way area of the yard.
Butterflies love flowers. Plant your flowers in large groupings so butterflies will notice them more easily as they fly past. To attract a larger variety of butterflies have different flowers in bloom throughout the season. Just as the name implies, each garden should start with a butterfly bush, Buddleja davidii. Also called the summer lilac, its blossoms are magnets to butterflies and fragrant additions to the surrounding area. Growing to 8 feet, and sometimes higher, this almost evergreen bush produces hundreds of cone-shaped flowers with minimal care and water.
Surround your butterfly bush with perennials such as purple cone-flower, black eyed Susan, verbena, daylily, catmint, lavender, phlox, goldenrod, asters or sedums. Then accent the perennials with annual bloomers that might include zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, alyssum and lantana. This combination of flowering plants will be stunning to look at and butterflies are sure to find it an irresistible spread. A well-balanced effect is created when these flowers are planted "from small to tall"; that is, low growing flowers at the front of the bed backed up by the taller plants to fill out the accent to the larger butterfly bush.
Butterflies fly about or swarm most actively during the warm part of the day, roughly from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. when the air tends to be still during the summer months. To encourage their daily visits, be sure to plant your butterfly garden in a sunny area that is sheltered from the wind.
Butterflies relish a spa treatment as much as you. Butterflies drink by slurping mud, so creating a sloppy, muddy, watering hole is providing them with the equivalent of a butterfly spa. A shallow pan of damp sand or gravel also does the job nicely. Add the occasional piece of fruit gone bad, and you've created true butterfly nirvana. Toads and birds enjoy these garden amenities as well.
Basking in the sun: Butterflies need to warm themselves in the sun before flying. A concrete garden bench or convenient flat rock situated in the warming morning sun makes a nice addition to the butterfly garden. Also, butterflies need protection from winds and rainstorms. Dense shrubs and trees will provide this shelter.
Use this guide to design a natural butterfly habitat and then sit back and enjoy what you've brought to your home: an abundance of flowers and nature's butterfly display!
The monsoon season provides the best gardening time of the year. Not only is the soil so easy for us to dig, but it's equally easy for plants to grow deep new roots. Conveniently, most butterfly-attracting plants are in bloom at garden centers now. If you need help designing a new garden space to draw butterflies, just ask. Garden center designers' guidance on these types of projects can prove invaluable. For more ideas to attract butterflies to your yard, the next time you visit the garden center ask for my handout "Attracting Butterflies & Hummers".
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.