The Q&A Archives: Butterfly Garden

Question: I am the "Garden Lady" for our school garden. I just attended the funeral of one of our beloved second graders, who so loved butterflies and flowers. What can we plant, as a memorial garden, to attract butterflies that will also grow well in our climate. We live in the desert, but our area is farmland and our soil is heavy clay. I would appreciate any help you can give me.

Answer: I am so very sorry to hear about the tragic loss of your little one. The butterfly garden project sounds like a great idea and one that will be good for the classmates to work on.

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 following plants are listed by planting times:

Fall (Annuals & Perennials): asters, Shasta daisy, purple coneflower, hollyhocks (larval host plant), nicotiana, petunia, phlox, coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, Gaillardia, Pincushion flower, salvia.

Fall (Wildflowers): Milkweed (larval host plant), Butterfly Weed (larval host plant), desert aster, desert zinnia, Arizona zinnia, 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.

Spring (Annuals): cosmos, sunflowers, French marigolds (tagetes spp.), zinnias, verbena, and some salvias.

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

Good luck with your project and thanks for the question!

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