First Timer’s Guide to Butterfly Gardening!

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It’s almost February and it’s time to start planning for those beautiful magnificent creatures that will make their way North soon. These flying insects are so important for spreading natures magic (pollen) making it easier for us to enjoy the beauty our planet has to offer. In my mind they are flutters of happiness symbolizing peace, tranquility, love and rebirth.

When first thinking about building a butterfly garden most people have visions of the gardens at the Zoo or a favorite municipal garden center.  You need to realize these were laid out by professionals and are tended to by armies of volunteers and employees. My suggestions is to start out small. Maybe you have a sunny spot in the corner of an existing bed or a small space on your patio.

Below are a few simple suggestions I have found that have worked for me in the past:

Start off with a sunny spot, either in an existing garden or on the patio, but also have a little shade. Butterflies get hot too!

Make sure it’s in an area or use pots that haven’t had commercial chemical laden fertilizer applied in at least the last 2 years. Some say three but I’m sure two will be fine. Butterflies just like bees are very susceptible to poising, it’s causing a lot of problems for their survival.

You also have to bait them with yummy food! Common and easy perennials (they come back year after year, MY FAVORITE PLANT!) are Cone Flowers, Black-eye Susan’s, Zinnia, Shasta Daisies, Lantana,

and Day Lilies. You can pick any and all of these up at your local plant nursery, mail order sites like Spring Hill Nursery, or your local spring herb festivals. The latter is my favorite because you’re supporting local growers and contributing to small business success; I usually end up buying from all three sectors. Keep in mind butterflies like a fun, colorful spot to hang out in, vibrant vivid colors like orange, red, purple, and yellow as the decor is sure to attract them. And as you can probably deduce from the pics above they prefer flat, broad leafed shaped plants that give them a really easy sweet landing spot to gulp up the yummy delicious nectar.

Herbs are also top on their list of yumminess. Lavender, Fennel, Oregano, Dill, Garlic Flowers and Sage are favorites. I’ve had success growing all these plant varieties together; it ends up being kind of eclectic looking and very LOW maintenance! These plants don’t require a lot of water and weeding; B-flies like it messy!

Of Course, you can’t forget the Milkweed! Milkweed is a necessity if you’re trying to attract these beautiful creatures. Butterfly MW has a lovely subdued orange flower and is medium tall and somewhat lanky. It’s a very hardy native and also doesn’t require a lot of water.

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Swamp MW displays muted, pinkish cluster flowers and just like the name suggests requires damp areas. Growing this variety would be fun around a water garden or pond.

Milkweed, butterfly plant

                                                   Beautiful “Common” milkweed

Common MW looks a lot like the swamp variety but is extremely invasive and very drought resistant. This is the type that you see in rural country fields, definitely not recommended for urban gardening. So don’t go digging up these wild flowers from the side of the road unless you want your whole backyard, and your neighbors, one big field of this stuff!

Becoming very popular in the US is Tropical Milkweed. Unlike the native varieties they are annuals and look more tropical, duh! The one called “tropical” looks a lot like our native Butterfly MW but has a more dynamic red orange color. It’s sometimes known as Blood Flower.

Hairy Balls, Tropical Milkweed, Moon Flower Vine

        “Hairy Balls” Tropical Milkweed w/ Moon flower Vine

Hairy Balls MW or Balloon Plant is a very distinctive plant, this is the one I grew last year and had sweet success with monarch caterpillars. This variety is quit a conversation piece and is a unique addition to the garden. That white flower in the background is a moon vine. In the beginning I wanted the milkweed to act as a stake for the vine. But this sweet little plant turned into a gigantic, glorious mess!

All these types of host plants get relatively tall and would make a great center anchor for your butterfly spot. Note: the Hairy Balls grows the tallest of all the varieties mentioned above topping out around 6 ft. It needs to be staked in most instances.

Monarch, Caterpillar, Hairy Balls, Tropical Milkweed

                                                                       Monarch Caterpillar feeding on Hairy Balls tropical milkweed

So in the end..…all of your efforts will hopefully, fingers crossed, result in some sort of screeching sound of joy and excitement when you notice your very own butterfly caterpillars hanging out on the milkweed! This, my friends, is so worth the time, money, and all your care throughout the long hot summer. I just can’t tell you the smiles this little guy in the picture gave us last year. We purposely hung out every night just to keep watch on where he would be the next night. I highly recommend planting your BF garden in a very convenient and comfortable spot close to your outside lounging area.

Attempting to grow any kind of garden whether it’s a cutting garden, herb, butterfly, or veggie can be quite intimidating for a beginner, but it really isn’t all that hard, trust me on this. Just like anything the hard part is getting started. So come on, start planning and let’s share our gardens this year! Let’s grow it!

Always,

Elise

I look forward to seeing pics of your garden and any suggestions you can pass along my way

Note: you might include some sort of watering hole for your beautiful fluttering friends, they get thirsty too!

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