In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
June, 2012
Regional Report

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Swallowtails visit the garden to sip the nectar from the old-fashioned sweet Williams.

Invite Flying Jewels into the Garden

For years my grandmother's old-fashioned sweet Williams have self-sown in the garden. Their delicate fragrance is always welcome, but even more enticing is their power to attract butterflies.

As I took a break from weeding the garden and sipped my lemonade, a newly hatched tiger swallowtail swept down, perched on a sweet William flower, and gently sipped nectar from the multiple blossoms.

Butterflies bring a touch of magic into the garden. No matter how long you've been gardening, these colorful, fluttery visitors are always a welcome sight.

Inviting butterflies to your garden is surprisingly easy if you do some planning. You'll need to provide a proper environment, including plants that will feed the larvae (caterpillars) and plants that bloom with nectar-rich flowers. Diversity in flowers is key since a variety of flowers will draw in different kinds of butterflies. Blooms with tubular flowers are the most inviting. The surrounding environment will do its part to attract butterflies, too. For example, the western tiger swallowtail is attracted to zinnias, milkweed, lilacs, butterfly bush, and sweet William. The black swallowtail especially likes butterfly weed, thistle, and alfalfa.

The other element to keeping butterflies in your garden is including a variety of plants on which the females will lay their eggs and on which the caterpillars that hatch out will feed. The monarch prefers to lay eggs on members of the milkweed family so the hatching larvae will be able to feed where they hatch. Dill and related plants are preferred for the larvae of the swallowtails. So be prepared to have some of your plants chewed on by hungry caterpillars. In the end you will be rewarded by the emergence of colorful adult butterflies.

Butterflies not only need nectar-producing flowers and larval food plants; they need shelter and protection when roosting at night. They also need water, and even though they often sip water from dew and raindrops in the axils of plant leaves, you can provide a watering spot. A shallow bowl filled with damp sand and placed in a sunny spot will provide them an alternative watering spot. On a hot day a good watering spot will attract a large number of butterflies at the same time, a phenomenon called "puddling." Place a few dried cedar branches and rocks nearby for the butterflies to perch on.

Remember to use perennials with varying bloom times in combination with colorful annuals so you will have a garden to bring butterflies into your garden all season long. These winged marvels are fun to watch and photograph.


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