Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Adding A Butterfly Garden
When I started landscaping my yard I used the NWF Backyard Wildlife Habitat model concentrating on encouraging birds to my yard. I have a number of nectar producing plants because I planted them to attract the Ruby throated Hummingbird. So Butterfly Bush, Purple Coneflower, Marigold, Aster, Zinnia, Butterfly Weed, Lantana, Daisy, Hibiscus, Glossy Abelia, Yarrow, Black-eyed Susan, Coreopsis, Daylilies, Redbud, Rosemary, Lavender, Verbena, and Phlox have been in my yard for a while (and others too many to name). Different species of butterflies have different preferences of nectar, in both color and taste. By planting a wide variety of food plants I hope to attract a larger diversity of visitors.
Last year I decided I would add some host plants to my garden this year in order to increase the amount of butterflies that come to my yard. Partly from spending time working in the Butterfly House at Cypress Gardens I learned host plants are as important as nectar plants. It will be a slow process to add host plants; but I made a start this year by adding Milkweed, Cassia, and Passion vine for butterflies to lay eggs and provide food for the caterpillars. Some females are picker than others about the plant they will use as host for their eggs. It turns out that my Tulip Popular tree I brought from Georgia is a host plant for the Tiger Swallowtail and the parsley I plant for my own use (and extra) attract the Black Swallowtail as does Queen Anne's Lace that is already in my plantings.
There are other ways to attract butterflies to your yard.
I've started using overripe fruit, allowed to sit for a few days to attract some butterflies. Some species that like rotting fruit: Red Spotted Purple, Question Mark, Mourning Cloak, Green Comma, Malachite, Red Admiral, Hackberry and Tawny Emperors, and the Viceroy. There are many ways that you can serve up the fruit to butterflies. Some people use a bird suet feeder to hold over-ripe rotting fruit hanging from a tree branch. Others have taken a plant saucer or flat bird feeder and used a plant hanger to hang the saucer/feeder from a tree branch. You could also place an old dish or flat bird feeder out on a deck railing or table with some old fruit cut or lightly smashed in it. I put my fruit in a flat bird feeder tray and hang from my bird feeder in the sun/shade away from the house; because the fruit will also attract insects. The fruit has sun part of the day and shade part of the day. The fruit needs to remain moist so I add a little water, Gatorade, fruit juice or even beer to the plate of fruit. I don't a flood the plate, just make a moist fruit mush.
Butterflies, especially the males, are attracted to moist mud where they will often congregate to find minerals and salts that supposedly increase their fertility (this is called "puddling"). I've tried making a puddle by filling a plant saucer with sand, rocks and water. Not making a "lake" of water but rather a moist muddy type spot. Adding some compost (or a little bit of manure) can help attract butterflies. The biggest challenge is keeping it moist during the hot summer. I've never seen the butterflies there but just this week I saw them at a natural puddle in the yard after a hard rain.
Butterflies need heat to fly and they use the sun to warm themselves. If you see a butterfly just "resting" with its wings open toward the sun, it is almost certainly basking in the warmth. I haven't had to add these to the yard because our waterfall and paved paths already provide this type of resting place. I've only seen butterflies basking on the stone occasionally though but the rocks and paths do add some visual interest to the garden.
I don't uses butterfly houses for over wintering butterflies or for providing protection. They can be quite beautiful, but they are rarely used. Butterflies prefer to use trees, shrubs, logs, wood piles and other natural settings for winter and storm protection. This doesn't mean you shouldn't add a butterfly house since they can be a thing of beauty and interest in a garden, but don't be disappointed if it is never used.