The Q&A Archives: Soil Ph Factors

Question: Plants in my yard are primarily pine trees and other acid loving plants. I want to plant a butterfly garden, but I'm afraid the soil is too acid. Is there a reference to soid acidity for each type flower plant so that I can make the necessary adjustments...or perhaps you can give me a general idea of what is needed with butterfly plants.

Answer: Most plants will grow in a wide range of soil pH, and those that have a preference are usually identified on the plant tags. For instance, blueberries like acidic soil and lilac's prefer an alkaline soil. They will grow in neutral soils, but perform best with the proper pH. At this point, I wouldn't be too concerned about soil pH. If the plants you choose to grow do not thrive, you might want to have your soil tested. Test results generally include recommendations for acidifying or sweetening soils.

Butterflies have specific favorite host plants to lay their eggs on. The plant the caterpillars feed on are not necessarily the ones the adults are attracted to. Therefore you will want to plant a variety of species for both larvae and adults. Most butterflies feed on flowers (like members of the sunflower or zinnia family) with large exposed sites to easily obtain nectar. They are attracted to gardens with lots of color, especially bright, vibrant colors with striking contrasts.

The most effective way to attract them is to provide not only nectar sources for the adult butterfly but food plants for caterpillars. Butterfly larvae (caterpillars) are selective and usually feed on just one or two types of plants. If you grow these host plants, butterflies will come to lay their eggs.

For nectar plants, consider lantana, verbena, salvia, mint, and rosemary. Other favorites are flowers that have flat surfaces that can be used for landing pads, such as calendula, black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower, aster, coreopsis, spreading fleabane, zinnia, and gaillardia. Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), buddleia, and passionvine are other excellent choices. Black Swallowtail larvae feed on both leaves and flower heads of dill, parsley, and fennel.
(Annuals & Perennials): asters, Shasta daisy, purple coneflower, hollyhocks (larval host plant), nicotiana, petunia, phlox, coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, Gaillardia, Pincushion flower, cosmos, sunflowers, French marigolds (tagetes spp.), zinnias, verbena, and salvia.

(Wildflowers): Milkweed (larval host plant), Butterfly Weed (larval host plant), tithonia or Mexican sunflower, Joe-Pye weeds, ox-eye daisy, gilias, verbena, Bigelow's Aster, Indian paintbrush, purple coneflower, phlox, desert globe-mallow (larval host plant), Black-eyed Susan, any sunflower family member, coreopsis, liatris, pentas, Jupiter's beard, coral bells.

Herbs: yarrow, hyssop, mints, lavender, bee balm, rosemary, catnip, pineapple sage.

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