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Adventures in Butterfly Gardening

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By Kathryn Courtney

I have always butterfly gardened. I did it because I liked it and butterflies make me happy. I knew very little about endangered species, vanishing habitats, and dangerous pesticides.I butterfly gardened for my own personal pleasure. Then I came to work at Maas. I began to learn that not only were butterflies fun, but that they needed a gardeners help. Butterflies are in very real danger of extinction. Backyard butterfly gardens provide butterflies with the habitat that is being taken from them by widespread pesticide and herbicide use. Now I butterfly garden for fun and so that my grandchildren will be able to enjoy these magical insects just like I do. Here are some things I learned during my adventures in butterfly gardening.

 

     The first thing I learned during my pursuit of the perfect butterfly garden was to start small. Do not overwhelm yourself. It takes all the fun out of it. I started with a back corner of my yard that gets full sun. If you don’t have a sunny spot that’s okay. There are butterfly plants for shade also. All of the flowers I

Lantana

planted were nectar plants that provided the butterflies with food.

 Coneflower.

Lantana became my best friend. I gradually added purple coneflowers, coreopsis, verbena and zinnias. I was careful to avoid any type of pesticide, organic or not. All pesticides can kill butterflies. I have found that almost all butterfly nectar plants are very tough and are rarely bothered by pests. Most are drought tolerant once established and need very little if any added fertilizer. Then I started my job at Maas. I found my butterfly garden was missing a few things.

     For one, I had forgotten about the caterpillars. I learned I needed to add host plants for the baby butterfly caterpillars to eat after they hatched. These caterpillars only eat certain types of plants depending on the species and need this food for the generations to continue. My butterfly garden began to expand. I added milkweed for monarch butterflies, parsley, dill fennel and rue for

Milkweed

swallowtails, and a cassia bush for my favorites, the sulfur yellow butterflies.

Cassia

Now my butterfly watching habit included checking for baby caterpillars on these host plants along with watching the adult butterflies. I was surprised to learn that my 18 year old satsuma was the perfect host for giant swallowtails which was the reason I saw so many of these butterflies in my yard.

     I began to read a few books and talk to my fellow Maas coworkers and realized that I needed a place for butterflies to “puddle” and shelter when they were tired. The sheltering part was easy enough as my cassia bush had grown large enough to provide a good rest stop for my butterflies. Butterflies like to puddle in very shallow water to get nutrients and water from the ground. To make an artificial puddle I used a terracotta pot saucer sitting on top of an inverted terracotta pot.I added sand two thirds of the way to the top of the pot saucer and placed flat rocks in the sand. then I added water to barely cover the sand .The tops of the rocks were out of the water to provide landing spaces for the butterflies. I now had a very easy, do it yourself butterfly puddle. There is one last piece of advice I learned the hard way with my butterflies. If you have bird feeders, place them as far away from your butterfly garden as you can. Birds will go quickly from eating at the feeder to eating the baby caterpillars in no time.
     Over the years I have added plants and taken some away. My whole backyard is pretty much all butterfly garden. I found pentas were great for shade and there is even one called butterfly pink. I also

Butterfly Pink Pentas

have pipevine in the shade for pipevine swallowtail caterpillars. My butterfly garden has a wild, natural look to it but it can very easily be pruned to look more formal.Butterfly gardens are very easy to setup and maintain. The plants are easy to grow, most require very little water once established, and they need no special care. There are many knowledgeable butterfly enthusiasts working at Maas. They will gladly help you find the perfect plants for your own butterfly garden.Take a corner of your yard and devote it to saving the butterflies. You will love it and the butterflies will thank you.