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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
4:37 AM Mon, Sept. 24th

Column: Garden designs that attract butterflies

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

I have watched thousands of butterflies over the years and they never cease to delight and amaze me. That's why this week's picture is the great shot I got of a butterfly enjoying a little sip from the nectar of a butterfly bush at the garden center.

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 nectars. 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 a garden filled with flowers and butterflies.

Caterpillars need to grow wings. Butterflies are large insects; therefore, the larvae need to eat a lot to bulk up to size. Milkweed, butterfly weed, parsley, dill and fennel are some favorite larval foods. You also will find these baby butterflies-to-be munching away at the leaves of your Virginia creeper vine and hollyhocks. With this in mind, be prepared for some damage to your larval food plants. This is normal and the plants will survive. If the chewed look bothers your sense of aesthetics, consider planting these vital food sources 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 from the air. 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." Also called the summer lilac, its fragrant blossoms are magnets to butterflies. Growing to heights of 8 feet and more, this almost evergreen bush produces hundreds of cone-shaped flowers with minimal care and water. Some butterfly bushes can get out of hand, so you might want to take a look at the petite series.

Surround your butterfly bush with perennials such as purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, verbena, daylily, catmint, lavender, phlox, goldenrod, asters or sedums. Then accent the perennials with annual bloomers like 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.

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, plant your butterfly garden in a sunny area that is sheltered from the wind.

Butterflies relish a spa treatment - 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 does the job nicely. Add the occasional piece of fruit gone bad and you've created true butterfly heaven. Toads and birds enjoy these garden amenities as well. You will even find the occasional hummingbird flying in for a visit.

On cool mornings, butterflies need to bask in the sun and warm themselves 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 the sweeping winds and thundering rainstorms of harsh summer weather. Your yard should include taller shrubs and trees to provide this life-saving 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!

This is an ideal time of year to garden for butterflies because flowering plants root quickly and deeply in the warm summer soil. Conveniently, most butterfly-attracting plants are in bloom now at your favorite garden center. If you need help designing a new garden space to attract butterflies, just ask a garden designer. A professional's 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."

This Saturday's gardening class, which starts at 9:30 a.m., is entitled "Sweeter Fruits, Grapes, and Berries: What Grows Best and Where." Next week's class, on Saturday, July 17, is "Landscapes with Less Maintenance, Care and Water." Classes are free, informative, and a lot of fun.

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.

Ken Lain says, "My personal mission is to help local homeowners garden smarter and get our local garden timing right." Throughout the week, Ken can be found at Watters Garden Center located at 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, or contact him through www.wattersonline.com.