Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
July, 2008
Regional Report

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Attracted to a wide variety of perennials, Lorquin's Admiral butterflies are frequent visitors to my garden.

Attracting a Bounty of Butterflies

I know summer has arrived when I can stand quietly in the garden and watch butterflies flitting over the flowers in search of nectar. With careful planning and plant selection, it's possible for you to capture some of that quiet beauty in your own garden.

Creature Comforts
Butterflies are the sun worshippers of the insect world. They need the warmth of the sun to enable their wing muscles to work, and will only come out to play when the temperature is above 60 degrees. That's why you won't often see butterflies on cool, cloudy days. A garden specifically designed for butterflies should be given a south or southwest exposure where it will receive maximum sunlight. Paving stones or a rock wall that reflect heat will make the site even more attractive to butterflies.

While butterflies do not use birdbaths and other deep sources of water, they do sip at mud puddles, moist pockets in the ground, and dew on stones at ground level. They seem to crave minerals and salts in these natural water sources. I have placed a few flat stones in my garden to provide resting spots for butterflies, and they seem to enjoy sipping the morning dew as they warm themselves in preparation for the day's activity.

Favorite Plants
Butterflies have very specific likes and dislikes, which vary with each species and stage of growth. The nectar of certain flowers, such as zinnias and cosmos, may feed an adult, but caterpillars have different tastes. Clover, thistle, buckwheat, and lilac constitute some of the caterpillars' most important food sources. I place these on the outer edges of the garden because they are not always the most attractive plants in the world. But, I've found that including them in the garden rewards me with the full cycle of metamorphosis -- from egg to caterpillar to adult.

The caterpillars of many butterfly species are as beautiful as the adults, and while they may seem to decimate a single plant, they do relatively little damage to the overall appearance of the garden.

Bright Colors Attract
Color plays an important role in the design of a butterfly garden because a butterfly's vision extends into the ultraviolet range, allowing them to see color patterns well beyond our own limited eyesight. They are especially attracted to pink, purple, lavender, and yellow flowers, although they may land to investigate any inviting flower.

Flower shape is also important. Generally, they prefer single to double flowers. The flowers must have room for their wings while they're sipping nectar with their long, flexible, straw-like proboscis. In my garden, the flat daisy-type flowers like zinnias, marigolds, asters, and coneflowers are the ones most visited. Cluster flowers, such as buddleia and lilac, are popular with the larger butterflies, while the tiny blossoms of alyssum are a favorite of the smaller, more delicate butterflies.

No Poisons, Please
Insecticides should never be used in a garden area where butterflies congregate. Butterflies are closely linked to their environment, and the loss of their natural habitats through human encroachment has greatly decreased their numbers. Creating a butterfly garden in your own backyard is a substantial step in restoring a balance between the insect world and human needs.

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