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Good Growing

Building a Butterfly Oasis

I feel like I blinked and April came flying around the corner. The good thing is that the days are getting longer and gardening season has begun! I have so many things that I want to do in my garden right now but it's been so rainy that I'm still waiting for things to dry out a bit, so it does give me more time for garden plotting and planning.

In a past article I had talked about nectar sources for butterflies and larval food sources for caterpillars, but the other week I was presenting about butterfly gardening as a whole. Butterfly gardening isn't just about providing food sources, but looking at it as a big picture and providing habitat to encourage both adults and larva. By the way, did you know that a group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope?

There are few requirements when planning a butterfly garden:

  • Provide BOTH nectar and larval food sources
  • Plan for continuous bloom
  • Plan for puddling
  • Resting places
  • Minimizing pesticide use
  • Accepting some level of plant damage due to larval feeding
  • Choose a location that is sunny and protected from the wind

I've talked in a past article about food sources for butterflies and caterpillars so I won't go into details again here, but when planning make sure you provide both. There are lots of great resources out there that can provide you with information on suitable plants for different life stages.

The other part of the planning for nectar sources for adult butterflies is making sure you have continuous blooms available. Look at the plants that are recommended nectar sources and then look at what blooms when – make sure to cover early spring all the way through fall. Also, when planting, they prefer mass plantings instead of a single plant here and there. Butterflies are short sighted so large swatches of colors is better.

What's puddling you might ask? Puddling is when butterflies visit mud puddles for water and minerals. Most often, butterflies that puddle are male butterflies. You can mimic natural mud puddles with a tray of wet sand and add in some sticks and stones for the butterflies to land on.

Butterflies are cold-blooded so make sure to provide large flat stones or other landing surfaces for butterflies to rest on where they can bask and collect heat from the sun.

Minimize pesticide use. We want to encourage both caterpillars and butterflies in our garden and so making sure to minimize use is critical. Even commonly available Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) which is used to control pests such as bagworms and other broad spectrum pesticides sprayed throughout the yard can be detrimental. Butterfly gardening requires us to let go of the normal mindset of stopping all insect damage on our plants and instead being okay with it and allowing for caterpillars to feed. If you do have insect damage that needs to be addressed try to "spot treat" the issue. Another benefit of reducing broad spectrum pesticides can be the increase in beneficial insects that can help control "the bad guys".

One of my goals this summer is create a butterfly habitat in my own backyard and I hope you'll join me even if only providing a few nectar and larval food source plants.