A Gardening Metamorphosis

2602-10Are you in need of a positive change this spring? Transpose your garden into a naturally enchanted haven for butterflies. Creating a butterfly garden not only ensures the conservation of these magnificent insects, but it also offers the gardener an ideal spot for rest and repose amidst a vibrant landscape. With five simple steps, you can turn your backyard into a picturesque environment bursting with color as you greet both neighbors and butterflies with outstretched limbs.

1. The first step in designing a butterfly garden is choosing the spot in your landscape to dedicate to these attractive creatures. Whether metamorphosing your entire backyard or merely adding planters to your patio, keep in mind that butterflies love to sunbathe. Make sure your garden receives at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight to assure your winged guests plenty of warm basking time.

Additionally, consider including some light-colored stones or concrete blocks in the setting. Butterflies cannot take active flight until their bodies reach 86o F; they will often find nearby stones to rest upon until they build up enough heat to fly.

2. Butterflies like to “puddle.” Water is an essential element to butterfly gardens, and can make a big difference in whether or not these lively insects choose to reside amid your landscape. After rain for instance, you might see butterflies “puddling,” or sucking fluids from the soil in order to obtain water and salts to nourish their bodies. You can easily recreate this scenario by including a central watering hole in the landscape; this will come in handy during periods of drought when butterflies are unable to attain adequate mineral water from the earth.

Simply fill a terra cotta pot or small plastic bucket with pea gravel or sand about two inches from the brim, and fill the remaining space with water. If you do not want the pot to take center stage in the flowerbed, you can tuck it behind a shrub or taller-growing perennial. Wherever you decide to place it, remember to change the water on a regular basis, so as to keep it fresh for your butterflies.

3. Butterflies like a profusion of color. Group clusters of the same plant together in order to make the blooms more visible for your fluttering friends. Bunches of multihued flowers are more attractive to butterflies than single blossoms, so make sure to plant masses of bedding plants like lantana or salvia, rather than using these perennials as mere accents.

4. Nectar is a “must” for these effervescent insects! Although butterflies feed on a variety of gaudy bedding plants, shrubs and trees, they are most attracted to purple, orange, yellow, pink and white blossoms – pulsating hues that will brighten the most jaded of gardens. When selecting plants, remember also that butterflies prefer old-fashioned flower varieties with simple, open blooms or small clusters – these allow them easy access to nectar as well as a place to perch. Hybrid cultivars and flowers with double blooms may prove to be showier, but they tend to produce less nectar.

Some of the nectar-filled butterfly favorites include Abelia, Buddleia, Mock-Orange, Redbud, Rose of Sharon and Spiraea. For continuous blooms all spring and summer, plant several of these shrubs and trees; this will also ensure an abundance of butterflies throughout the growing season.

Add a vibrant fusion of annual color this spring and summer by planting Cosmos, Gomphrena, Impatiens, Marigolds and Nasturtium. Consider also incorporating sunflowers, Queen Anne’s Lace and Zinnias. Although you will have to replant these flowers next spring, their bold hues and beautiful blossoms are certainly worth the effort.

In combination with annual flowers, include clusters of perennials as well. Butterflies are sure to frequent gardens that feature Ageratum, Asclepias (Butterfly weed), Bee-balm, Coneflowers and Coreopsis. Daylilies, Lantana, Passion flowers, Phlox, Salvia, Shasta daises and Verbena are also worth trying.

5. Butterflies need a spot to lay eggs. Host plants are crucial to butterfly gardens. They provide a place for these insects to lay eggs, and offer nourishment for emerging caterpillars. Because such plants are food for caterpillars, you will notice heavy munching on the foliage; consider incorporating host plants in areas not highly visible.

While native trees and shrubs often serve as ideal host plants for caterpillars, a variety of other plants can be integrated in your butterfly garden. Depending upon which type of butterflies you hope to attract, some of the most common host plants include cabbage, dill, milkweed, parsley, sunflowers and sweet fennel.

Caterpillars tend to feed on the leaves of the plant where the butterfly eggs were laid. As a result, female butterflies are fastidious, laying eggs only on specific host plants. For instance, Monarch butterflies lay eggs on Milkweed since that is what Monarch caterpillars eat. To entice specific butterflies, you may want to research the necessary host plants.

Designing a butterfly garden does not have to be difficult. With the right selection of plants, you can have dazzling color all spring and summer from both flowers and butterflies.

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