Create Butterfly Gardens As Sanctuaries

Everyone loves butterflies, those graceful and vivid insects which don’t bite or sting, invade houses, or buzz annoyingly. They add nothing but beauty to the world. Of course, their larvae eat plants, but most gardeners consider the damage caterpillars do minimal compared to the reward of having the adults around. Those who plant special butterfly gardens provide food, shelter, and resting places for these much-loved guests of summer.

Both butterflies and gardeners like bright colors, and many native and cultivated plants will please both groups. Some plants work as ‘hosts’, providing a place to lay eggs and food for the emerging caterpillars. Others provide nectar, which feeds the adults. Many plants do both.

A garden doesn’t have to provide everything, of course. Even a window-box can give hungry insects a meal. However, it’s fun to create a sanctuary, with everything the insects need during their entire life cycle. It all starts with the larvae. Herbs that caterpillars like include fennel, dill, parsley, and rue. Dogwoods, sassafras, pawpaw, and Sweet Bay magnolias are trees that feed larvae and adults. Garden favorites that serve as host plants include sunflowers, hollyhocks, Black-eyed Susan, asters, nasturtiums, and Echinacea. The wild passion flower vine and milkweed are valuable hosts; in fact, Monarch larvae only eat milkweed.

Butterflies need pretty much what every living creature needs: sunlight, food, shelter, water, a place for the young, and protection from predators. There are some other things that knowledgeable butterfly fanciers consider, like providing large rocks or bare patches of ground where the insects can bask in the sun. Being cold-blooded, butterflies need to warm up for the day’s activities. These basking spots add aesthetic interest to a border, as well.

For water, the butterfly prefers damp soil or sand. The edges of a mud puddle often attract a kaleidoscope, which is one term for a group of these insects. They are also called a swarm, a rabble, or a flutter. Well-planned gardens have ‘puddling stations’ of damp sand or soil. Some experts advocate placing rounded stones in shallow dishes of water or nailing sponges to the tops of posts and keeping them wet.

Many popular blooming plants provide nectar for butterflies. Ground covers like Sweet Alyssium, Candytuft, and creeping phlox are valuable, as are flowering herbs like lantana, lavender, catmint, and peppermint. Train a passion flower vine over a trellis or along a fence. This vine is native to many areas, is a host as well as giving nectar, and is care-free.

Those who want low maintenance can choose native plants. Many of these, like Bee Balm, are also deer and slug resistant. Bee Balm is a wildflower that thrives in zones three to eight. Coneflower is another native flower that deer and slugs usually leave alone but butterflies love. To provide the most help, find out which insects are native to the area or will migrate through and choose plants that those species need to survive.

The special gardens can include all the traditional favorites like roses, daffodils, allium, and annuals. Just remember to avoid systemic insecticides, which penetrate the whole plant and kill all pollinators that visit, as well as the caterpillars.

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