Creating a Successful Butterfly Garden in 10 Easy Steps
by Seymour Simon
One of the most utilized sections of the Teacher Guide for my new book, BUTTERFLIES, is a guide to planning and planting a butterfly garden. It is not difficult, and your work is paid back with years of enjoyment!
Would you like to have your own butterfly garden? Here are some things to know before you get started.
1. Before you buy any plants, spend a sunny day watching your garden. Keep checking at various times of the day — morning, mid-day, and afternoon — to see how much sun you get. Where in the garden is it sunny, and where is it shady? You will need to choose plants according to how much sun or shade they need, so it is important to do this research before you start.
2. Butterflies and hummingbirds are drawn to specific plants for their nectar. Of course, different plants flourish in different climates and geographic areas of the country, so there is no single list of “perfect” butterfly-attracting plants. You can check with the local chapter of the Audubon Society (click this link to find a chapter near you), or with your local Cooperative Extension (click this link to find an agricultural expert in your state office) for a list of plants that both are attractive to butterflies and which will grow well in your area. Or talk to a knowledgeable person at your local garden center. They, too, will know which plants will attract these beautiful creatures.
3. When you are looking at lists of plants, be sure to chose some that support the entire butterfly life cycle by choosing “host plants,” where butterflies can lay their eggs. For example, Monarchs are attracted to penta, zinnia, coneflower, and butterfly weed for the nectar from their flowers, but they will lay their eggs only on the butterfly weed (which is what their caterpillars eat as they grow). So, if you include butterfly weed in your garden, you can support the entire life cycle of the Monarch butterfly.
4. Butterflies like to sun themselves on warm rocks, and they also need water. So, when you build your butterfly garden, be sure to include a couple of rocks, as well as a fountain or bird bath, which you should fill with fresh water every day.
TIP: Do not hang bird feeders in your butterfly garden. Birds eat caterpillars, which are butterfly larvae, so you don’t want to do anything to attract them to this particular spot.
Once you have a list of butterfly-friendly plants that will grow in your area, you need to start to make some choices. Here are things you should consider. If you go through the big list of all the possible butterfly flowers thinking about the questions below, you will end up with a short list of plants that will help you to create a personal, unique butterfly garden!
Photo: Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)
5. Sun vs. Shade. You’ve already done your homework on this, so circle only the plants on the big list that will work in the spot that you have chosen.
6. Flowers by Month. You want to have a garden that is attractive (both to the human eye and to butterflies) from spring right through the autumn. So, pay attention to when different plants flower, and be sure that you plant a mix that will have something in bloom from April through October.
7. Perennials vs. Annuals. You should plant a mix of perennials (more expensive plants that come back every year) and annuals (inexpensive plants, usually sold in packs of six, that only last for a single year) in your butterfly garden. The nice thing about annuals is that they tend to flower for the whole season, while perennials usually have a specific number of weeks when they are in bloom. So, choose a short list of perennials that you really love, and then fill in the rest of the garden with lots of annuals.
8. Plant in groups. Perennials look best when they are planted in odd-numbered groupings of 3, 5 or 7 plants. Once you have planted, be sure to mulch liberally, to hold moisture to carry your plants through dry, hot days, and most importantly, to keep weeds at bay!
9. Height of the plants. Think of this like arranging a big group of people for a photograph and trying to make sure that everyone is seen. You want tall plants at the back of the garden, shorter ones in the middle, and ground huggers up front. The tag on every plant in the nursery will tell you how tall a plant will grow (as well as whether it needs full sun or tolerates shade).
10. Color scheme for your garden. The final narrowing of the list should be determined by which ones you think will look good together in the garden. Be sure to include a variety of colors to attract different butterflies.
Download a complete teacher guide for BUTTERFLIES, with many more activities, resources and a reproducible student Butterfly Observation Log from http://www.seymoursimon.com.
Save the date! June 23, 2012 Nonfiction Book Blast 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.