Planting a Butterfly Garden

Flying beauties and jewels of the sky are only two of the terms that can describe one of the planets most beautiful species, the butterfly. People have always held a great fascination with these gentle flying flowers because of their magnificent beauty and colors. The springtime is a perfect time to catch these dazzling creatures fluttering through the sky or just resting on a lovely flower.

Making a butterfly garden has wonderful advantages during this time of year. Many people are looking for new and exciting ways to start a garden or just spruce up their old one. Butterfly gardens are a great source of entertainment when you want to admire the beauties of the spring. It is very easy to attract these wonderful creatures to your garden with the proper planning and plants. You can start your very own butterfly garden this spring and craft a delightful spring show.

The first step to starting a butterfly garden is to understand why a butterfly may choose to visit a garden in the first place. Butterflies are looking for nectar and a host plant. Nectar is the food that adult butterflies need in order to survive and a host plant is a place where a female can lay her eggs and they also provide the food that the caterpillars will need. If you want to start a successful butterfly garden you will definitely need these two types of necessities.

Nectar plants are plants with flowers that produce a sweet fluid that many insects eat including the butterfly. Many butterflies prefer nectar plants that have pink, red, purple, yellow or orange flowers. Butterflies are more than likely to be attracted to plants that are a single color rather than a garden that has a variety of colors. Butterflies will want to land on the flowers in order to get nectar, so they prefer plants that either have clusters of short tubular flowers, or flowers with large and flat petals.

Host plants are the perfect place for a female butterfly to lay her eggs. The caterpillars cannot travel very far to find their own food, so the host plant makes the perfect home for the new creatures. Most of the species of caterpillars are particular about the type of plants that they are able to eat. If an egg is placed in a wrong type of plant than the caterpillar will not be able to survive. However, many native trees and other plants found in and around an ordinary yard will be able to serve as a host plant for caterpillars. One of the pet peeves of a gardener is to have their lovely plants eaten by insects. Caterpillars do eat plants and if you are planning on hosting a butterfly garden, you may decide to place the host plants in a not so visible area of the garden.

As with most insects and small creatures, butterflies love the sunlight. When trying to find the perfect location for your garden you may want to find a sunny spot in your yard to began planting. These spots need to have at least 6 hours of sun each day. On cool damp mornings, butterflies like to find sunny spots to warm up their bodies until they become active. They often sit on a reflective surface such as a flat stone, spread out their wings, and turn their backs to the sun for warmth. Believe it or not a butterflies wings act like solar panels by absorbing the warmth of the sun so that the heat can transfer to their bodies.

Butterflies love an open and quiet area to relax and feed on nectar. They do not like to be disturbed while they are eating, so the best planting area would be far away from noisy or active sites. Choose an open and visible location, maybe one that is visible from your windows so that you can watch them.

Butterflies do not like windy areas. Wind makes it harder for them to feed, so the best place to also consider putting your garden is a location that blocks the wind.

Puddling is an activity that butterflies do. This activity looks like the butterflies are eating dirt because they often gather in groups on wet mud or sand. However, the butterflies are really obtaining the minerals that are found in the soil. They also are drinking the water that is available to them through the puddling station. You might want to consider putting a puddling place in your butterfly garden by placing a shallow pan in the soil, filling it with coarse sand, and keeping it very moist. You can place �½ to �¾ cups of salt to 1 gallon of sand as an additive. The best place to put a puddling station would be under a soaker hose or near a drip emitter so that the sand stays very moist.

As most people know, butterflies love nectar, however, nectar isn’t the only food that the butterflies will eat. You can add extra delicacies for your butterflies by placing small amounts of rotten or softened fruit or manure. If you do have small children, than please consider putting these items a place where they cannot reach. These items have a tendency to also attract wasps; and if you are allergic to wasps, than you can reconsider putting the fruit or manure into your yard to avoid any accidental stings.

Beware! You may not only attract butterflies. Insects love gardens and they will love your butterfly garden too. If you begin to develop a pest problem than please do not use insecticides. These can kill your butterflies and caterpillars. The best alternative is to do it naturally by using biological controls such as: ladybugs, lacewings and preying mantids. If you begin to have aphids, whiteflies, mealy bugs, or spider mites than try using insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils applied only to those areas on the plants where the pests are located. The caterpillars can be effected if you use too much of the controls. Herbicides can also have a negative effect on caterpillars and butterflies.

Choosing the right plants for your butterfly garden is very critical. Different butterflies are attracted to different types of plants. Figure out which types of butterflies you would like to attract to your garden and find out the types of plants that they are attracted to. If you have a bed full of roses, lilies and peonies you won’t attract very many butterflies because they do not produce much nectar. However, plants such as: perennials, common heliotrope, sunflower, cosmos, and Mexican sunflower are great sources of food for butterflies. The best variety of plants would be perennials, annuals, herbs, climbers and shrubs.

Plan for your flowers to bloom in between May and October so that you will have a lovely garden of butterflies all summer long. They will stay just as long as you provide them with lots of nectar.

A Butterfly Bush is something that you will want to definitely invest in. Many butterfly species find its long spikes of mauve, pink or white flowers irresistible. This bush also has an extended flowering season from August to October.

What to consider while planting your garden:
1. Choose an informal style, with irregularly shaped and curved flowerbeds, and trees or shrubs near the rear.
2. Plant groupings of several plants of the same color and species so that the butterflies can find your garden easy.
3. Set aside a wild area for native plants or “weeds” like horticultural varieties of purple loosestrife, which butterflies can’t resist.
4. Green lawns don’t attract very many butterflies, however, if you add clovers to your lawn you will attract a variety of species.

It could take years to get your garden the way that you want. Start small by planting a few groupings of nectar plants. You can eventually add more plants each year.

Know your host plants. Certain types of butterflies will only lay their eggs on certain types of host plants. For example a Monarch butterfly caterpillars will only eat on milkweed. This type of wildflower will provide a caterpillar with food and shelter until it forms a chrysalis, and eventually turns into a butterfly, God-willing.

Understand the caterpillars that are in your garden. Some caterpillars have hairs or forked spines, which may or may not sting if touched. It is best to where gloves if you are planning on handling the creatures to avoid such incidents. Certain Swallowtail caterpillars imitate snakes or bird droppings. Other caterpillars, like Sulphers, are camouflaged or blend into their surrounding very well.

Understand your butterflies. Adult butterflies and moths have mouthparts shaped into a long, coiled like tube. Butterflies are able to feed on liquids by forcing blood into the tube to straighten it out. This is where the butterfly will receive all of their food, which limits them to nectar and standing water. Larvae have chewing mouthparts, which they use to devour the leaves. Butterflies have large round eyes allowing them to see in all directions without having to turn their head. They are very nearsighted and are more attracted to large strands of a particular flower or color than ones that are mixed. They do not see the color red as well as humans do, but they do see polarized light as well as ultraviolet light. These light sources are present on many flowers to help guide the butterflies to the nectar. Butterflies also have a well developed since of smell from their antennae.

Butterflies began life as a tiny egg laid either singly or in a group depending on the type of species that they are. A very tiny caterpillar emerges and after consuming its own eggshell it begins feeding on its host plant. Caterpillar must crawl out of their skin or molt, usually around five times before they began to change into a pupa. Finally and adult butterfly emerges and flies away. This type of development is called metamorphosis.
Here is a list of butterflies and their nectar preferences

Buckeye Butterfly
Host: snapdragon
Nectar: aster, milkweed chickory, coreopsis

Host: nettle, elm
Nectar: rotting fruit & sap, butterfly bush, dandelion

Great Swallowtail
Host: citrus trees, prickly ash
Nectar: lantana, Japanese honeysuckle, milkweed, lilac, goldenrod, azalea

Host: milkweed
Nectar: milkweed, butterfly bush, goldenrod, thistle, ironweed, mints

Mourning Cloak
Host: willow, elm, poplar, aspen, birch, hackberry
Nectar: goldenrod, aster, zinnia, butterfly bush, milkweed

Painted Lady
Host: daisy, hollyhock
Nectar: goldenrod, aster, zinnia, butterfly bush, milkweed

Red Admiral
Host: nettle
Nectar: rotting fruit and sap, daisy, aster, goldenrod, butterfly bush, milkweed

Tiger Swallowtail
Host: cherry, ash, birch, tulip tree, lilac
Nectar: butterfly bush, milkweed, Japanese honeysuckle, phlox, lilac, ironweed

Host: willow, poplar, apple
Nectar: rotting fruit and sap, aster, goldenrod, milkweed

A butterfly garden is a fun and entertaining addition to any yard. It is very important to conserve butterflies whenever possible since their habitat is constantly diminishing due to the increasing development of homes and roads. Not only will you be providing your yard with a beautiful show you will also be giving butterflies a new place to live.

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