Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
August, 2010
Regional Report

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Swallowtails, frequent visitors to my garden, are attracted by the heady fragrance of lilacs in full bloom.

Inviting Butterflies To Your Garden

I know summer has arrived when I can stand quietly in the garden and watch butterflies flitting over the flowers searching for 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 and will only come out to play when the temperature is above 60 degrees. That's why you won't see much butterfly activity on cool, cloudy days. If you're designing a garden specifically for butterflies, give it a south or southwest exposure so it will warm up quickly in the morning and receive maximum sunlight all day long. A rock wall or paving stones that reflect heat will make the site even more attractive to butterflies.

Butterflies need a convenient source of drinking water. They don't use deep sources of water such as birdbaths, but they do sip at mud puddles, moist pockets in the ground, or dew on leaves. I have placed a few flat stones in my garden to provide resting spots for butterflies, and they appear 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 attract an adult, but caterpillars have different tastes.

Buckwheat, clover, thistle, and buddleia 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 lifecycle from egg to caterpillar to adult. The caterpillars of many butterfly species are as beautiful as the adults and while they may seem to consume all the leaves of their favorite plants, they do relatively little damage to the overall appearance of the garden.

Bright Colors Attract
A butterfly's vision extends into the ultraviolet range, which allows 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. As a rule, they prefer single or 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 of Shasta daisies, zinnias, marigolds, asters, and coneflowers are the ones most visited. Cluster flowers, such as buddleia and lilac, are popular with the larger butterflies, where the tiny blossoms of alyssum are a favorite of the smaller, more delicate butterflies.

No Poisons, Please
Avoid problems for larvae and adults by keeping insecticides out of a garden area where butterflies congregate. When you plant to attract butterflies, expect the larvae to feed on the leaves of the plants. I just accept the damage as partial payment for the wonderful privilege of being able to watch these beauties up close and personal.

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