Butterflies are welcome visitors to most gardeners. Choose the right plants, add some amenities and you can encourage them to stay awhile.
For best results, select a place in your yard that receives full sun for at least six hours a day and has adequate drainage. If you don't have a yard, you still can have a butterfly garden -- just think smaller and plant your garden in a window box or container.
For ease of maintenance, plan a garden that is no larger than 10 by 12 feet. Butterflies may be wild, but the plants aren't: They'll need watering and weeding. Try to situate the garden so you can enjoy it as much as the butterflies.
Butterflies are attracted to gardens where there's a variety of heights, colors and shapes of flowers. You can achieve variation by incorporating annuals, perennials and shrubs in your garden design. Because some adult butterflies will be present from early spring until the first hard freeze, you should plant flowers that will bloom continuously, or select plants with a succession of bloom periods.
The most successful butterfly gardens include plants that provide for all stages of the life cycle.
Butterfly larvae (caterpillars) need leafy food plants; adult butterflies need nectar plants. Butterflies depend on host plants to lay eggs, feed larvae and form chrysalides. Placing the garden near woods or a field of native grasses and weeds will provide food plants for the caterpillars.
Plants caterpillars like include butterfly weed, parsley, dill, fennel, spicebush, milkweed, hackberry and willows. (You may want to keep the butterfly garden away from your herb garden!)
Plants that attract butterflies are butterfly bush, lantana, salvia, butterfly weed, vinca, impatiens, rudbeckia, black-eyed Susan, asters, marigolds, purple coneflower, lavender, cosmos, trumpet vine, penstemon digitalis, scarlet bee balm, red daylilies, sweet William, columbine and zinnia.
Be careful not to apply insecticides in or near the butterfly garden. Most are contact poisons, and thus toxic to butterflies. Instead of pesticides, you may want to control bugs with a sharp spray of water or hand picking.
Butterflies need damp areas or shallow puddles. If there are no such natural areas in your yard, sink shallow containers filled with sand, dirt or stones into the ground and keep them moist. Butterflies also like to drink from shallow birdbaths.
Another item you may want to add is a resting place. Place smooth, flat rocks and logs in the garden to allow a place for the butterflies to bask in the sun. Also consider adding some type of windbreak.
Pub Date: 7/20/97