In the Garden:
Thirsty butterflies at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland enjoy a drink on these sponges.
I love butterflies and I welcome them to my garden with a profusion of their favorite flowers. I help them stay and live in my garden by using a few simple steps. Most important I eliminate the use of pesticides, including organic ones, that could harm butterflies or their young (caterpillars). Next, I provide them with nectar sources, shelter, and water.
Butterflies Love Flowers
In the butterfly world, nectar rules. I plant a variety of plants that bloom at different times to satisfy the butterflies' hunger. In my yard, butterflies crowd above the mimosa tree when it's in full bloom. Butterflies on the branches make the tree appear to dance in the midday sunshine. The butterfly bush (Buddleia) is another they love. Some great perennial flowers that are butterfly magnets include purple coneflower (Echinacea), verbena (Verbena bonariensis), and catmint (Nepeta) Later in the season, the sedums and asters will be tops on the butterfly popularity poll.
Among the many annual flowers I grow, the butterflies seem to like the zinnias best. But they also flutter above the lantana, verbenas, marigolds, and sweetly scented 'Marine' heliotropes as well. As with the perennials, the bigger the drift of similar plants, the more attractive they are to our winged friends.
Born to Eat
Caterpillars are born to eat, grow, and then pupate to become adult butterflies. Bronze fennel, dill, parsley, and milkweed as well as butterfly weed are typical larval food sources for the young caterpillars. They will devour them, sometimes leaving only bare stems. This can result in a necessary, but unsightly garden scene so I plant food plants in an out-of-the-way location.
Besides growing preferred plants, encourage butterflies by offering the basics for survival. A brush pile or densely growing shrubs offer shelter from harsh weather, rainstorms, and wind. A mud puddle or a basin of damp sand or gravel will supply water and minerals. A flat stone or rock in an area with morning sun will invite them to bask and provide a spot to warm up their bodies each morning in preparation for flight.
Most butterflies prefer an open and sunny area sheltered from the wind. They're most active during the calm, sunny hours between 10 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. That's fine with me, because that's precisely when I like to stay in the shade and relax. It's a perfect time for some lazy butterfly viewing.
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