Butterfly gardening

Colorful plants, fragrance attract winged insects

Few things are as irresistible as sweet, young children and lovely, colorful butterflies. With the right planning, your garden can attract both. Start with the children. Enlist their help in planting a garden that will entice butterflies. It is a good way to get children interested in gardening, nature and a bit of science. Once the garden is planted, the butterflies will come.

To be honest, some plants needed for successful butterfly gardening are weedy looking. Also, the untidiness that comes when children lose interest halfway through the project, when it appears nothing is happening and you have a garden that is “casual” looking at best. Not to worry, butterflies are not interested in neatness.

But they are interested in color. In fact, color and lots of it, is what first attracts a butterfly to a plant. The bright swath of orange color from butterfly weed or red from a mass of salvia is much easier for them to spot than an isolated plant or two. Fragrance is also significant since butterflies have a keen sense of smell.

Before beginning, give some consideration to the site. Find the sunniest place to build your butterfly garden. Butterflies need the sun’s heat to raise their body temperature, which helps them fly. You may want to position the butterfly garden bed off to a corner, since it can have a somewhat untidy appearance. The space does not be large. A 3-foot by 6-foot area generally can hold enough plants to attract butterflies.

Next, think about the plants. The National Garden Bureau suggests designing a garden that provides along season of flowers (nectar plants) to attract the most butterflies. Perennials, such as chives, dianthus, beebalm, butterfly weed, mints, black-eyed Susan and purple coneflower offer a succession of blooms. Add season long bloomers, annuals such as cosmos, petunias and zinnias, and you have a winning combination. Select flowers with many small tubular flowers or florets — verbena and liatris for example. French marigold, Shasta daisy and sunflowers are other excellent choices for butterflies. Some plants may become invasive, so remove spent blooms before they go to seed.

If you are starting your butterfly garden from seed, remember that some perennials may not bloom the first year after sowing. If this is a joint project with children, let them handle the larger seeds, like marigolds or zinnias. Encourage children to plant like-color seeds in groups, rather than sprinkle throughout the garden.

Remember to include plants that the larvae can feed on. Besides the willows, poplars, cherry tees and spicebush that you already may have incorporated in your landscape, larvae feed on herbs such as fennel, dill and parsley. The monarch, perhaps one of the most recognized butterfly, lays its eggs only on milkweed, and the larvae feed on the plant.

Add a few rocks to the butterfly garden. Rocks serve a dual purpose. Butterflies use them to rest on and because rocks reflect the heat of the sun, their body temperature rises. Eleanore Lewis and the National Garden Bureau suggest creating a place where water can collect in a concave rock or a pot saucer filled with wet sand. (Moisten the sand periodically if rain is scant.) Butterflies “puddle” in such spots giving children a great opportunity to watch them up close.

Winged jewels of the air … flutterbys. No matter their name, butterflies intrigue everyone. Create a space for them in your garden this year.

— Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and home and garden writer for the Journal-World.

Here are more plants caterpillars feed on:¢ Borag¢ Dill¢ Fennel¢ Parsley¢ Passion vine¢ SnapdragonHere are plants caterpillarsand butterflies like to feed on:¢ Agastache¢ Asters¢ Butterfly bush¢ Coreopsis¢ Lantana¢ Lavendar¢ Pentas