The Butterfly Garden
Butterflies pollinate flowers and add living color and a feeling of
calm to any garden. Whether your a lepodoptrist in training,
trying to attract
insects to pollinate your plants, or just want to add some
life to your landscape with a few simple
additions you can create a butterfly haven.
Meeting the locals
Each species of butterfly has its own habitat, food,
and egg-laying preferences and these preferences vary widely.
The habits of your local butterflies will be the starting
point for plant choice and garden design. Butterfly field guides,
as well as the local museaum, zoo, or plant nursery can all offer
information on which local butterflies you’ll be able to attract.
Plants for butterfly gardens
Although each butterfly species has its favorite, in general
plants that attract butterflies are those richest in nectar.
To provide food in all seasons, choose a variety of plants that will
keep the garden in bloom from early
spring to the first frost. Early-season plants include lilac and
scabiosa. For mid-summer, try hollyhock,
black-eyed susan, orange glory, hibiscus, butterfly bush, and kobold blazing
stars. In late summer and early autumn, cosmos, blue mist, and asters will provide food. Other nectar-rich plants include goldenrod,
lupine, paintbrush, clover, delphiniums, fuchsia,
bee balm, azalea, zinnia, daylily, phlox,
impatiens, sedum, verbena, purple cone flower, rose of sharon,
spiraea, pear, blueberry, and viburnum.
When designing your planting plan, consider the natural habitat of
your local butterflies. A meadow arrangement with plants in clusters
is a natural setting for butterflies and will attract and maintain
a variety of species. This open setting helps give both butterflies
and nectar-rich plants the full sun they require. However,
the garden should be sheltered from winds. This can be done by bordering the
garden with hedges, tall plants, or a wind-proof fence, or by placing
the butterfly plants at the bottom of a hedge or other wind-break.
To attract butterflies to a more visable level,
container or raised beds of butterfly-attracting plants can be placed near seating
To give butterflies an extra source of energy, or to attract them to a
certain area (a window, for example) feeders designed for butterflies can be
used. For food mix, a just-add-water nectar is available or a simple mix
of one part sugar to four parts water can be used.
Because sugar-water can become moldy in warm or humid weather, the feeder should be cleaned with hot soapy water every few days. The fresher the food, the more attractive it is.
Mud puddles are also favorite hang-outs for butterflies.
Some male butterflies actually congregate at the mud puddle
in clusters. Mud puddles provide minerals that
some species of butterflies need and can’t get from flower nectar. Rather than relying on the rain, you can create
a permanent mud puddle from plastic container (one that did not formerly contain toxic material) or a terra cotta saucer. A tree stump can also serve as a natural container. Just use a hatchet to chip out a small area
in the stump.
For source of fresh water, bird baths work well. Simply arrange some rocks in the bath so the butterfly will have somewhere to perch while drinking. Around the water source, place nectar-rich plants that will not only provide an easy meal, but will also draw the butterflies’ attention to the water.
As cold-blooded insects, butterflies need to warm their bodies before they can become active for the day. Keeping a few flat rocks, pieces of driftwood, or reflective surface such as a white plate in the butterfly garden will give in a location that recieves morning sun will give the butterflies a place to sun themselves before starting the day.
Butterflies are also attracted to gardens that look like safe to start a family in.
The female butterfly needs host plants on which to lay her eggs. These
plants will provide food for the caterpillers that hatch from the
eggs. Each species of butterfly has its preference as to host plants
and the female butterfly is very particular in choosing the right one.
Although the exact plants supplied as hosts will depend on the butterflies
you want to attract, commonly used host plants include milkweed, parsley, hollyhock, nettles, and spicebush.
Keep in mind that the same chemicals that keep down weeds and harmful insects
may also harm butterflies. Using only organic, natural products to fertilize and dissuade pests will help keep the butterfly population healthy.
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