Spring is here and planting time has arrived. This spring I would encourage you to incorporate into your landscape a haven for butterflies. On warm sunny days the visitors provide color and motion that double the pleasure of gardening. You will get sheer enjoyment from watching and observing these beautiful creatures. Butterfly gardening is a fun, educational way to enjoy nature’s most abundant form of wildlife – insects.
Butterflies love basking in the sun. They need to soak up the warmth to become active. Also, most all nectar plants will grow best in full sun. Adult butterflies feed on flower nectar, using it as an energy source for flight and egg production. Have a sunny location to create a butterfly garden.
Grow plants for a nectar source for the butterflies. These plants not only will attract the adult butterfly through color, it also will provide them with plenty of food or nectar. Large splashes of color will grab their attention better than scattered small clumps of colorful flowers. If garden space is an issue, plant in containers.
Butterflies are most abundant from spring through fall. Additionally several species of butterflies – monarchs, cloudless sulfurs and snout butterflies – migrate during late summer and early fall. Plants that flower throughout the season with multiple flowers that produce abundant nectar are ideal.
Examples of flowers that are excellent nectar sources are Mist Flower, Salvias, Lantana, Verbena, Butterfly Weed, Zinnias, Marigold, Purple Coneflower and Gayfeather. Local arboretum, botanical gardens and parks are excellent sources to observe butterflies and host plants.
When you attract butterflies, they will lay eggs for the next generation of butterflies. When eggs hatch, the larvae (caterpillar) must have food. Most caterpillars feed on leaves, although some develop on the reproductive parts of flowers or seeds. And the typical garden is not likely to have plants that host the larvae of most butterflies. The host plants for caterpillars are often unattractive, weedy and wild and generally unpopular in the landscape. But if you want to keep butterflies in your garden you will have to provide these plants.
The addition of bait stations can enhance a butterfly garden. Bait stations use fermented or sweet liquid made from bananas or other cut fruit, brown sugar, beer or yeast. Painted on tree trunks or placed in dishes, bait will help attract butterflies.
Water will be needed as well. Add to a shallow dish, sand filled approximately one inch from the top, pebbles for the butterflies to land on, and the water. Make sure that the water bowl is cleaned regularly.
Remember caterpillars are vulnerable to predators, parasites, diseases, pesticides and environmental stresses. Control predators such as the red imported fire ant in and around the garden. Do not use insecticides on butterfly plants.
Variety is the key. You want to provide diversity in plants to support both larvae and adults.