Originally Published: July 24, 2009 10 p.m.
Summer blooming shrubs have finally opened to show off their brightly-colored flowers. With these summer blooms come masses of butterflies. Flowers and butterflies naturally go together, so garden centers are like a butterfly's 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 four-step plan to create 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. Parsley, dill and fennel are some of their favorite foods, as are 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 larval foods 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 butterfly garden should start with a butterfly bush, Buddleja davidii. Also called the summer lilac, its blossoms are fragrant additions to the surrounding area and are powerful butterfly-drawing magnets. Growing to 8 feet and sometimes higher, this almost-evergreen bush produces hundreds of cone-shaped flowers while requiring minimal care and water.
Surround your butterfly bush with perennials such as purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, verbena, daylilies, catmint, lavender, phlox, goldenrod, asters and/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. This planting scheme draws attention to the centerpiece plant - 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
On cool mornings, butterflies need to warm themselves in the sun before flying off to their business of the day. A concrete garden bench or convenient flat rock situated so that it's warmed in the morning sun makes a nice addition to any butterfly garden. Also, butterflies need protection from the sweeping winds and thundering rainstorms of harsh summer weather. Your yard's dense shrubs and trees will provide this life-saving shelter.
Use this guide to design a natural butterfly habitat; then sit back and enjoy the abundance of flowers and nature's butterfly display you've brought to your home!
The monsoon season provides the best gardening time of the year. Not only is moist soil easy for us to dig, it's equally easy for plants to grow deep new roots. Also, this is the time to promote a second burst of growth from your landscape plants. Trees, flowers, lawns and especially all summer blooming shrubs should be fed at this time. Skip the water-soluble foods and feed everything in the yard with a good granular plant food. I like to use my "All-Purpose Plant Food," the 7-4-4 all-natural plant food I created specifically for mountain soils. Don't miss this opportunity to give yards a boost and to promote deeper color for leaves and flowers. This will be the last feeding until the fall.
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. Conveniently, most butterfly-attracting plants are in bloom at garden centers now. 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.
Throughout the week Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, and can be contacted through his website at www.wattersonline.com. Ken says, "My personal mission is to help local homeowners garden better in our mountain landscapes."