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Gardening for Flutterbys...Butterflies

Posted Apr 09 2009 6:21pm

Thyme for the Garden Header

Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.   Nathaniel Hawthorne

Last summer our family visited the New River Gorge Bridge near Summersville, West Virginia. Walking up to the visitor's center was as much of a treat as standing at the bridge overlook. The visitors' center is fronted by beautiful butterfly gardens. They were positively alive and moving with these winged flowers.

The thing I noticed particularly about the butterfly gardens was how the gardener planted groups of the same plants repetitively throughout the gardens. Using several favorites, the garden was as pleasing to observers as it was to the butterflies, and very easy to maintain.

I am interested in creating more than just a garden for the butterflies to visit. I would like to provide a complete habitat so I can watch the entire God-designed life cycle and share it with others.

Planning for Butterflies

Fotolia_4243722_XSChoosing Nectar-Rich Favorites

Butterflies, like bees and hummingbirds, enjoy flower nectar as part of their diet. They are particularly attracted to purple and yellow flowers with simple, open blossoms. Species flowers or old-fashioned varieties are preferable because they produce more nectar.

Butterflies are also attracted best to large patches of the same colored flowers where they can find a lot of nectar. Plant varieties are not as important as grouping colors.

Provide a Nursery

If you want butterflies to make a home in your garden, give them a place to lay their eggs. Some species lay eggs on a variety of plants. Others are choosy, leaving eggs on selected plants only: milkweed for Monarchs, everlastings for American ladies, clovers for Sulpur butterflies, and tulip trees, ash, or choke cherry for tiger swallows.

Offer a Drink

Butterflies enjoy plain water, but you can really give them a treat with mineral water, but not the kind you buy at the store. They love water mixed with minerals from the soil.

Keeping your garden soil moist is one way to make minerals available. Birds & Blooms magazine suggests you can also make two special drinking spots for your butterflies:

  1. Fill a shallow pan with sand and saturate it with water.
    ~or~
  2. Spread some sand over an open spot in your flower bed. Place a mineral block, also known as a cattle lick, on the sand pad. Rain, dew, and plant watering will keep the sand damp and full of minerals from the block.

Allow for Accommodations

Butterflies like small places where they can hide from predators and spend the winter. Place a few pieces of firewood stacked among the flowers. Don't waste money on ready-made butterfly houses. Although they are pretty, research shows that butterflies don't use them.

 Fotolia_1363832_XSGive 'em the Hot Seat

Butterflies are cold-blooded and need warmth to live. It is easier for them to fly when their body temperature is around 85° to 100°. Butterfly gardens should receive at least six hours of full sun each day. Lay a stone or concrete pavers among the flowers exposed to the sun.

Share Some Shelter

Your butterfly garden should be placed in an area protected from the wind by a fence, building, or large plants. This will help the butterflies avoid spending all their energy fighting wind gusts and breezes.

Posies for Pennies

Butterfly gardening can definitely be done on a budget. A few packets of seeds or a  few six-packs of plants are a great start. Don't forget to plant a few containers next to a bench so you can visit up close and personal.

Plants for Butterflies

Make sure to plant for all flowering seasons when the butterflies are active.

Spring: Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii), Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris), Phlox ( Phlox paniculata ).
Summer: Blazing star (Liatris scariosa), Mint (Mentha species), Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Thistle (Cirsium vulgare).
Fall: Asters (Aster species), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Zinnias (Zinnia species).

Along with the above listed, these plants are nectar and/or habitat favorites:

Annuals for containers and flower beds: Floss flower (Ageratum houstonianum), Globe aramanth (Gomphrena globosa), Heliotrope (Heliotropium aborescens or peruvianum), Lantana ( Lantana species ), Moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora), Nasturium ( Tropaeolum species ), Pansies (Viola tricolor), Phlox (Phlox maculata), Salvia ( Salvia splendens ), Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), Sweet william (Dianthus barbatus ), Violets (Viola species).

Perennials for containers and flower beds: Agastache ( Agastache species ), Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum species), Coreopsis ( Coreopsis species ), Delphinium ( Delphinium grandiflorum ), Dianthus (Dianthus gratianopolitanus), Gaillardia (Gaillardia species), Goldenrod ( Solidago species ), Penstemon ( Penstemon barbatus ), Rudbeckia ( Rudbeckia species ), Salvia ( Salvia subrotunda ), Scabiosa (Scabiosa species), Sea Pink (Armeria maritima), Sedum ( Sedum species ), Verbena ( Verbena species ), Veronica ( Veronica species ), Wallflower (Cheiranthus allionii).

And in the vegetable garden: Carrots (Daucus carota), Dill (Anethum graveolens), Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Parsley ( Petroselinum crispum ).

Have you noticed that many plants attractive to your butterflies are also favorites of hummingbirds and other bird species? You might want to plan for a wildlife garden and incorporate food for all these flying wonders! Refer back to Gardening is for the Birds and Gardening is for the Birds ~ Part 2: Hummingbirds for more ideas on what you need.

Patricia's Sig

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