Nothing brings a summer garden to life the way butterflies do.
It is easy to attract butterflies to your garden since they require larval host plants and flowering nectar plants to lay their eggs. Caterpillars also need to feed those plants to turn into butterflies. Therefore, it is essential to have both kinds of plants because the butterflies travel long distances to get to them.
To get butterflies to visit, gardens need warmth, water and food. A sunny south-facing spot is a great place to begin a butterfly garden. Add plants that are tough and durable. Most are easy to find and purchase.
The challenge is to get the butterflies to stay once they have visited your patch of land. Providing a diverse number of plants for the larval stage is a start.
Hosts plants providing a food source for caterpillars include Columbine, milkweed and native asters. Trees feeding the larval are tulip poplar, lilac, wild cherry, willow, sweet bay and elms. Sometimes larval host plants can be weedy, so plant them in obscure places other than a cultivated garden.
The host plants also provide places for the adults to lay eggs. So when you see the future butterflies chewing on a few leaves, don’t bother to spray. They will not hurt the plants.
Once the caterpillars turn into butterflies, supply the garden with nectar-rich plants such as lantana, coneflower, zinnias, garden phlox, goldenrod, Salvia, bee balm and yarrow. These are just a few of the choices you can select.
Adult butterflies need the energy from various plants. These creatures will visit landscapes in search of flowers easily accessed by their long coiled tongues. They are particularly attracted to “hot colored,” fragrant plants.
A good size butterfly garden could hold up to 20 different plants with dimensions somewhere around 14 feet long and 7 feet wide. Colors in gold, purple and red are great magnets for butterflies of all kinds and sizes.
You don’t need a huge garden to attract butterflies. In fact, large containers filled with five to six nectar plants will keep the winged visitors fluttering around most of the summer.
A few common butterflies in Georgia are monarchs, swallowtails, Gulf fritillary, buckeye and checkerspot. Plant milkweed for monarchs, spicebush for swallowtails and passionflower for fritillary. You can also plant snapdragons and verbena for buckeyes and white ash for checkerspot.
Develop a shallow pool of water for the insects. It is a crucial element as butterflies need moisture to survive. A clay saucer or other long flat container filled with wet sand or mud with a rock in the center as a resting spot is a great water source for butterflies.
Nothing is more delightful than a flower garden filled with a variety of butterflies fluttering from bloom to bloom. Children and adults are mesmerized by their visits.
Create a space for their shelter along with food and a water source to bring in a few of the many butterflies that grace our landscapes.
Wanda Cannon serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. Contact her at 770-535-8293 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.