Sunday, July 19, 2009

Secrets of the Buttefly Garden

1. If you plant it they will come. Eventually. It takes patients to grow a good butterfly garden. The first year you might despair - seeing very few butterflies. That's where I am this year in my new house. But I know that if I plant the right plants for both the adult and the larval butterflies (caterpillars) that the population will increase and in a year or two my yard will be filled.

2. Don't forget plants for the caterpillars. Check and see if your state has a butterfly club or check out the NABA website at You should be able to find a listing for larval plant host species. I always plant plenty of parsley for the swallowtail caterpillars and Asclepias sp. for monarchs. Be prepared for ragged looking plants. By the end of the season my parsley is down to nubs and the Asclepias is often bare stems. If you like a tidy garden don't plant for butterflies.

3. Over the next two or three months butterfly populations will peak so now is the time to check out your local garden centers or arboretums. Don't buy anything (except maybe that spectacular lily, I can keep it alive in a pot until planting time, I'm sure). This is the worst time of the year to establish plants in most of the country. Instead look for plants that are attracting pollinators. Now you may not see many butterflies so instead look for bees. If bees like it chances are good that butterflies will, too. Make a list and plant to buy at least three of each in the fall. Large swaths of color will be more attractive to butterflies than one of each.

4. Now for the dirty little secret of butterfly gardening. Plants that attract butterflies also attract other pollinators. This means bees and wasps. This does not mean you have to fear stings. My husband is allergic to bee stings and we've worked it out. Most bees and wasps will not sting you if you don't bother them (I don't recommend picking them up). The exception is yellow jackets - they can be quite aggressive. So learn to identify them. If I see lots of them I start looking for their nest - they are ground nesters. Then we have the nest professionally destroyed. My husband is allergic, after all. Oh, and I also do the mowing, just in case I don't know about a nest, we don't want John to mow over one.

5. Don't use pesticides. Period. Not ever. Not even on your grassy lawn area. (ok, so I just admitted using them for yellow jackets but only because they are aggressive and my husband is allergic. Other than that no pesticides in our yard) Pesticides kill insects and that includes butterflies and caterpillars. If you use pesticides you will be killing some of the very insects you are trying to attract. There are other reasons to avoid pesticides use but pesticides deserve a whole soap box of their own so I'll save that for a future posting.

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