An Introduction to Butterfly Gardening
In recent years, the natural habitat of the butterfly has gradually diminished due to the rapid growth of modern cities and suburbs. In an effort to increase the butterfly population within suburbia, utilization of butterfly gardens by homeowners introduces a small haven for the butterfly within today’s cities. In addition, the garden provides the homeowner with endless entertainment; and the sights, sounds and fragrances of the garden offer the owner peace and contentment as well as a feast for the senses.
Attracting butterflies to your garden is an art. Nutrition for the butterflies, how to attract butterflies year-round, deterrents and preferences all must be taken into consideration. An abundance of nectar rich flowers, plenty of food source plants, rocks for sunning and a water source all need to be provided. The more nectar and food source plants that you plant, the more butterflies your garden will attract.
To bring numerous butterflies to your garden you need to plan for masses and clumps of color perennials and annuals. Both perennials and annuals should be planted, but perennials are more useful since they bloom year-round, thus attracting butterflies throughout the year. The blooming periods of the annuals should be staggered also in order to attract butterflies year-round. To attract numerous and different species of butterflies try to plant a selection of native and non-native plants to your garden.
Shade and wind are deterrents to butterflies and will repel them from the garden. To counteract this, provide a sunny location (they need to be able to warm their wings); and place the taller plants in back to create a windscreen. Butterflies are most active between 11 AM through 3 PM; thus, a location should be selected that will provide sun during this time period.
Flower shape is more important than flower color in regards to attracting butterflies to feed, and old-fashioned flowers that retain scent and nectar are the best for attracting the adults. Butterflies prefer single flowers with tubular shape and upright blooms for feeding, and they also prefer flowers with bright colors and a distinct scent, with red and yellow being their favored colors.
Aspects to consider when selecting your butterfly plants are: The favorite butterfly colors are warm colors: red, orange, yellow; the flowers should have a sweet odor and a platform to land-on. No butterfly garden is complete without these must have butterfly garden nectar (N) and food (F) plants: Achillea millefolium – Yarrow (F), Anethum graveolens – Dill (F), Asclepias curassavica – Scarlet Milkweed (N & F), Buddleia davidii – Butterfly Bush (N), Helianthus annuus – Sunflower (F), Heliotropium spp. – Heliotrope (N), Impatiens spp. (N) (red & orange colors), Lantana spp. – Lantana (N), Menta spp. – Mint (N & F), Monardella odoratissima – Mountain Mint (N & F), Penta spp. – Pentas (N), Petroselinum crispum – Parsley (F), Salvia spp. – Salvia (N), Stachytarpheta jamaicensis – Porterweed (N), Tagetes spp. – Marigolds (N & F), Tagetes lucida – Mexican Marigold Mint (N & F), Verbena spp. – Verbena (N), Zinnia spp. – Zinnias (N). These simple plants are the tried and true to butterfly gardening and will attract butterflies to your garden.
Planning the Garden
Survey the area of where you are planning to place the garden. The area should have full sun from 11 AM to 3 PM. Butterflies are most active during this time frame and you want to entice them to your garden. The plants can be purchased at local garden centers, Home Depot, and Lowe’s in your area, usually Home Depot and Lowe’s has a nice selection of butterfly garden plants. Plant the trees first, the shrubs second, the annuals and perennials last. The annuals and perennials are your main attractors for nectar and larval plants and will also act as filler plants too.
Gardening Tips and Guide Lines
- Position the plants three feet away from the foundation of the house by doing this will give the homeowner room for maintenance.
- Plant shrubs, annuals, and perennials in a zigzag arrangement °◦°◦°◦°◦°.
- Consult the recommendations for spacing requirements on the individual plant information tag.
- Odd numbers mimics nature, thus, always plant in odd numbers.
- Provide a mixture of spring, summer, and fall blooming species that are both annuals and perennials.
- Large-leaf shrubs and trees provide shelter and hiding places for the butterflies during rainstorms.
- Butterflies require rocks for sunning, and a water source. A terra cotta saucer can provide water and small rocks can be placed in the saucer for sunning.
- When planning your butterfly garden, butterflies are attracted to masses of color so group 7-11 plants together of the same color. Then group 7-11 plants that strongly contrast or compliment the color.
- The greater the variety of nectar plants and larval host (food plants) provided, the more variety of butterfly species will be attracted to your garden. After planting your butterfly garden and as the year’s progress you will see more and different varieties of butterflies. I designed my sister’s butterfly garden in Texas, and each year she reported more butterflies and different species of butterflies.
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All photographs and digital images are ©Cheryl Ann Meola. All Rights Reserved. All photographs and digital images displayed in this newsletter are for viewing purposes only and cannot be duplicated. Scroll over the picture to view the plant name and all pictures in the newsletter are for butterfly gardening.