Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Your Blooming Butterfly Garden

Blooming with color and activity, the Butterfly Bungalow at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher prompts curious guests to wonder how they can create their own butterfly garden. Here are a few suggestions to establish a beautiful space both you and native butterflies will appreciate.

First, a large planting area is not necessary. Cultivating a special place for these winged wonders can be achieved with only a few plants or a significant plot of land. Yet, planting both host plants and nectar-producing plants together allows the greatest range of activity. Nectar-producing plants act as the butterflies’ food source, while host plants provide a place where they lay their eggs and provide food for caterpillars.

Examples of nectar-producing plants
    Coneflowers                                                                               Aster  
    Blanket flower                                                                            Lavender 
    Golden rod                                                                                 Lantana

                                          Examples of host plants
     Parsley                                                                                       Snapdragon
     Milkweed                                                                                   Dill
     Clover                                                                                        Dogwood

See the following website for a chart of host plants per species:

Be sure to take note of what conditions each plant favors and if they are a good fit for your yard. Milkweed, a well-known attractant for monarch butterflies, persists in full sun and in dry soil. If your yard is generally shady or damp, this may not be a good choice. Instead, try honeysuckles or impatiens for nectar and possibly spicebush as a host plant, as they prefer moist soil and can thrive in partial shade.

In addition to plants, one should also consider placing rocks for the butterflies to warm themselves on. Butterflies are cold-blooded and rely on the sun to warm their muscles so they can fly. If their body temperature drops below 86ยบ F, they will not be able to fly. Large rocks gather heat from the sun and can be placed around your garden for butterflies to rest and warm up.

On the other hand, butterflies can become too hot and may be seen in wet sand or muddy areas, taking part in an activity called puddling. During this event, the insects collect needed minerals from the soil to supplement their diet. To promote puddling in your yard, a partially-filled bird bath would do the trick. Also, one could place a pan in a shallow hole filled with sand or soil; just make sure to keep it moist.

Surprisingly, some butterflies prefer rotten fruit over nectar, so placing fruit in a suspended dish, away from the ants, can be beneficial to your garden. Make sure to also keep this moist to attract the butterflies. Spraying the fruit with orange juice is a great way to keep it moist.

Chemical pesticides may be contributing, in part, to the decline of butterfly populations around the world. Fortunately,  natural or organic insecticides, pesticides, and fertilizers can be effectively used.
Examples of natural pesticides
Clover                                                                                        Neem oil
Garlic                                                                                         Copper
Lavender                                                                                    Sulfur

A great list can be found at the following website:

If you’ve already created a butterfly garden, tell us about your successes and challenges. Include where you live, as different plants thrive in different areas. How did you cultivate a beautiful natural space for butterflies and other pollinators?  What worked well for you? What would you do differently?