In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
This Red Admiral butterfly is enjoying nectar from an ornamental allium.
Who doesn't love butterflies in the garden? This seems to be a bumper year for red admirals in my garden, and I'm happy to have them even if their larvae do eat my licorice plants. I heard one Japanese gardener refer to butterflies as flying flowers, which I think is a beautiful description.
New Habitat and Pollination
There are so many reasons to plant a garden to encourage butterflies, only one of which is that many species have dwindling numbers because of the loss of habitat. We can help with that and have not only beauty in the garden, but also some help in pollination of our fruits and vegetables.
Balance in the Garden
In order to encourage butterflies or any creatures to come into our gardens, we must keep the idea of maintaining a balance in mind . The lovely adult butterflies are only one stage of the life cycle. The larvae are also a part of this cycle. If we don't plan for their complete life cycle, the butterflies will not stay.
Share Food with Larvae
The great part about choosing flowers for butterflies is that these same flowers often bring in hummingbirds, bees, and moths. Many of the food plants for the larvae are also food for us. For example, the beautiful black swallowtail's favorite larva food is parsley. When you plant parsley for the kitchen, plant a couple of extra plants for the larvae. I guarantee you will have swallowtail larvae before you know it. They don't eat much, and are quite colorful.
We're all familiar with the monarch, and having a stand of sweet-scented milkweed at the edge of the garden will assure that the monarchs hang about the garden until it's time to migrate in the fall. The tiger swallowtail larvae eat aspen leaves, the clouded sulfur eats alfalfa and clover, and the viceroy eats cottonwoods.
Provide for Butterflies' Needs
Butterflies are unable to drink from free water, so the best way to encourage them is to fill a birdbath with sand and keep it moist. They are then able to take up the water with their long proboscises.
Provide an area of full sun since butterflies are cold blooded, some sun-warmed rocks for basking spots, a bit of shade for mid-summer, and some type of wind break so the butterflies will stay around to lay eggs. It helps to mix larvae host plants with the butterfly attractor flowers. You can always add more host plants to the back of the garden where they are not viewed as readily. After all, they will be chewed!
Most butterflies are attracted to red, orange, yellow and purple flowers, and native species often have more nectar than modern-bred flowers.
Here are some favorite butterfly attractors:
Here are some favorite larval hosts:
Queen Anne's Lace
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