AN INTRODUCTION TO BUTTERFLY GARDENING
Mark S. Rzeszotarski, Ph. D.
REASONS FOR BUTTERFLY GARDENING
1. Enjoy the challenge of luring butterflies to your yard.
2. Use and expand your gardening skills to create a unique design for a butterfly garden.
3. Enhance the local population of selected butterfly species.
4. Help preserve the species and its habitats ;
5. Do something different than your neighbors.
STRATEGIES IN BUTTERFLY GARDENING
There are several options. First, one can attract butterflies by providing desirable nectar sources. Second, one can grow plants which are larval food sources for selected species. Finally, one can use water or bait as another form of attractant.
GARDEN LOCATION CONSIDERATIONS
Choose a location which will receive full sun most of the day. Use a southern exposure if practical. Also, shelter the garden from gusty winds if possible. Make it open enough so there is easy access from the air, yet protected from strong winds. A distant wall or tree line is ideal.
Butterflies need sunshine and warm temperatures. They will not fly when it is cloudy or cold. A garden placed in full shade will be ignored by butterflies. Expect the first visitors after the dew is gone in the morning. They will continue to come throughout the day, stopping well before sundown, when temperature start to fall and shadows begin to dominate.
Many varieties of butterfly flowers are old prairie or meadow species which survive in neutral soils with good drainage, relatively poor fertility, and little rainfall. Ideally, the soil should be fertile, but well drained. Gravel may be added to enhance drainage if needed. A low wet location is useful if marsh or swamp varieties are planted.
Learn to accept some predation and plant damage. Butterflies are extremely sensitive to many chemicals. it is better to tolerate a few insects and weeds than kill off the butterflies. Avoid spraying the lawn near a garden as leaching may occur.
LAYING OUT A BUTTERFLY GARDEN
There are no specific rules, just some common-sense guidelines. Place several plants of the same type in a mass rather than singly. Use single colors rather than a mixture. Think about the season of bloom for each variety so you don't leave holes in your garden. Also, keep in mind the mature height of each variety.
Butterflies have a broad visual sensitivity. As a result, they can see ultraviolet light particularly well. Flowers which have some blue coloration in them are preferred in general. Some flowers have "nectar guides" which are only visible under ultraviolet light. These guide the insects to the nectar and pollen. Use light to medium light shades of pinks, purples, blues and yellows when selecting flower colors. Avoid dark colors. Bright red is okay for a few species.
Butterflies are attracted to flowers with strong fragrances such as heliotrope, lilac, mignonette, lavender and viburnum. In general, flowers with the same color and shape will be selected according to the strength of their fragrances
SHAPE OF THE FLOWERS
The flower head should provide a good platform for take-off and landing. This is particularly true for the larger butterflies. Short-tubed flowers attract butterflies with short proboscises (drinking tubes) while long-tubed flowers attract varieties with long proboscises. Flower heads which point downward make poor take-off/landing targets and will not be visited by butterflies. Some moths will visit them however.
SEASON OF BLOOM
Select a number of plant varieties so that the garden is in bloom all season long. Mix annuals and perennials for optimal effect.
Territorial behavior is common among butterflies, especially among males. Buckeyes, mourning cloaks, red admirals, monarchs and others will perch or patrol an area, looking for females. Frequently, they will chase others away.
GOOD NECTAR SOURCES
Choose tall, single, non-hybrid varieties. These tend to produce more nectar than hybrids, and provide a more upright flower with easy access for the butterfly. One must learn butterfly preferences through observation and experimentation to be most effective.
BEST PERENNIAL NECTAR SOURCES
Achillea Millifolium - Yarrow Buddleia Davidii - Butterfly bush
Coreopsis Echinacea Purpurea - Purple coneflower
Heliotropium - Heliotrope Heuchera - Coral Bells
Lantana Lavendula - Lavender
Lobelia Cardinalis - Cardinal flower Monarda Didyma - Bee balm
Monarda Fistulosa - Bergamont Sedum Spectabile
Verbena Bonariensis - Verbena Veronica - Speedwell
BEST ANNUAL NECTAR SOURCES
Alyssum - Snowcloth Improved Cosmos - Imperial Pink
Mignonette - Evening Stock Nicotiana - Flowering Tobacco
Salvia - Blue and Red varieties Scabiosa - Mourning Bride
Schizanthus - Butterfly Flower Zinnias - Big Red
BEST WILD FLOWER NECTAR SOURCES
Asclepias – Milkweeds Aster Novae-Angeliae - New England Aster
Chrysanthemum Maximum - Shasta Daisies Cirsium - Bull Thistle
Dipsacus Sylvesris – Teasel Eupatorium - Joe Pye Weed
Helianthus - Native Sunflowers Liatris - Blazing Stars
Phlox Paniculata – Phlox Rudbeckia - Gloriosa Daisies
Trifolium – Clover Veronica - Ironweed
GOOD LARVAL FOOD PLANTS
Butterflies are very particular about what they will lay eggs on. Monarchs prefer milkweed. Black swallowtails prefer members of the carrot family like Queen Anne's Lace. One must learn what foods the caterpillars prefer in this case through reading and observation.
SUGGESTED LARVAL PLANT SOURCES
Alfalfa - Sulphurs Clover - Sulphurs
Elm - Mourning Cloak Milkweed - Monarchs
Nettle - Satyrs, Red Admiral Parsley - Black Swallowtail
Thistle - Painted Lady, Metalmarks Violets - Fritillaries
Wild Cherry - Tiger Swallowtail Willows - Viceroy, Red-Spotted Purple
VEGETABLES FOR ATTRACTING BUTTERFLIES
Cabbage family >>> Cabbage butterfly (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale)
Dill, Parsley, Carrots >>> Black Swallowtail
Alliums (onions, chives) >>> nectar sources
Tomatoes >>> sphinx moths (tomato hornworm)
Beans >>> Gray Hairstreak
BIRDS IN THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN
In general, birds are considered undesirable since many eat caterpillars and butterflies. Personally, I have found the two to harmonize quite well so I make no effort to keep birds out. Hummingbirds will also find your garden particularly desirable, especially the long-tubed flowers like monarda and salvia.
Many butterflies and moths are attracted to rotting fruit and sugar solutions. One can blend together a solution of fruit, sugar, beer and molasses and paint it on a log or soak a sponge in it to attract species which do not like flowers. Do not paint it on tree trunks since it also attracts raccoon, squirrels, etc. which can damage the tree.
Many butterflies are attracted to mud or small puddles where they can sip water and minerals around the puddle. A puddle must be kept weed-free and provide room for easy butterfly access.
SUMMARY OF RULES IN BUTTERFLY GARDENING
1. Use no pesticides or chemicals.
2. Plant in masses, not single plants.
3. Plant single non-hybrid varieties rather than doubles or hybrids.
4. Plant flowers of a single color.
5. Plant light to medium shades. Avoid dark shades.
6. Use pinks, purples, blues and yellows.
7. Plant close together to minimize weeds.
8. Water regularly when needed.
9. Feed with compost/bone meal/manure or other mild fertilizer.
10. Work in the garden on a routine basis to stay ahead of the weeds. Use a mulch.
REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READING
The Butterfly Garden, Mathew Tekulsky, Harvard Common Press, 1985.
The Butterfly Gardener, Miriam Rothschild & Cleve Farrell, 1983.
Summer Magic: Butterfly Gardening, The Xerces Society, late 1990.
The Country Diary Book of Creating a Butterfly Garden, E. J. H. Warren, 1988.
The Butterflies of North America, James A. Scott, 1986. (good larval plant information)
Some Cultivated Plants Used As Nectar Sources By Butterflies (Ralph Ramey)
White Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) (A)
Single French marigold (Tagetes patula) (A)
White lilac (Syringa sp.) (S)
Butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.) (S)
Zinnia (Zinnia elegans) (A)
Stock (Mathiola incana) (A)
English wallflower (Cheiranthus cheiri) (A)
Mint (Mentha spp.) (P)
Clover (Trifolium spp.)-(P)
Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) (A)
Michaelmus daisy (Aster novae-angliae and A. novi-belgii) (P)
Pink thrift (Armera plantiquinea) (P)
Honesty (Lunaria annua) (A)
Polyanthus primrose (Primula polyanthus) (P)
Sweet William catchfly (Silene armeria) (A)
Common valerian (Valeriana officinalis) (P)
Orange daylilly (Hemerocallis hybrids) (P)
Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) (P)
Pincushion flower (Scabiosa spp.) (A)
Flame azalea (Rhododendrum calendulatum) (S)
Lantana (lantana camara) (S)
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) (P)
(A) - Annual (P) - Perennial (S) - Shrub
Some Wild Plants Used As Nectar Sources By Butterflies (Ralph Ramey)
Milkweed (Asclepias spp.)
Joe-Pye-weed (Eupatoreum maculatum)
Boneset (E. perfoliatum)
Dandelian (Taraxacum officinale)
Black-Eyed-Susan (Rudbeckia spp.)
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
Knapweed (Centaurea spp.)
New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae)
Common Yarrow (Achillea millifolium)
Flat-Topped Aster (Aster umbellatus)
Ox-Eye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum)
Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense)
Thistles (Cirsium spp.)
Blazing Stars (Liatris spp.)
Teasle (Dipsacus sylvestris)
Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.)
Vetch (Vicia spp.)
Tick Trefoil (Desmodium spp.)
Clover (Trifolium spp.)
Wild Marjoram (Origanum vulgare)
Thyme (Thymus serphyllum)
Bergamont (Monarda Fistulosa)
Bugle (Ajuga spp.)
Mallow (Ifalva spp.)
New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)
Wild Lilac (Ceanothus sanguineus)
Meadowsweet (Spirea latifolia)
Currant (Ribes spp.)
Golden Alexander (Zizea aurea)
Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota)
Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)
Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)