by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Have you see all the butterflies in our landscapes recently? Butterflies in the local area seem to be extremely plentiful this year, and we are rewarded with the beauty and variety of these visitors to our gardens. Among the most beautiful of all insects, their striking appearance adds color and activity to our landscape. Not only are they wonderful to view, but they are very instrumental in pollinating plants, and vital to their reproductive process. So how do we attract butterflies to our gardens?
One of the best ways to bring butterflies to your yard is to grow nectar plants, which are a primary food source for adults. You should plant nectar plants in large groups, and according to color, because butterflies recognize blooms more quickly this way. Also, choose perennials that bloom over several seasons, so a food source is available for a longer period of time. Finally, provide plants that have different heights, which gives the butterflies a wider visual picture of the blossoms.
So what flowers should you plant to provide vital nectar to the butterflies? Begin with daffodils and lilies, both early blooming bulb plants. The lovely spring azaleas, yellow blooms of coreopsis and the orange butterfly weed all provide both color and nectar. Using native plants like our Oklahoma state flower, the gallardia or blanket flower, the common primrose, and several varieties of milkweed not only delight the butterflies, but they help to preserve the heritage and continuation of our natives in the landscape. Other favorites include hollyhock, with its tall showy blooms, and cleome, or spider flower, also tall and showy. All of these plants are available at your local nursery or garden center at various times of the year.
The black swallowtail is the state butterfly for Oklahoma and loves thistle.
Butterflies also need plants on which to lay their eggs, and which will provide food for their larvae. Most larval-food plants are natives, but are usually unsuitable for a showy flower border, so it is better to choose a separate area of your yard for these plants. One favorite that grows in the shade as well as sun and produces pretty lavender flowers is false nettle. Also, herbs such as dill, fennel, parsley and chives provide excellent food for larvae and still produce enough foliage to use in your kitchen to create tasty dishes!
The black swallowtail caterpillar or larva feeds on fennel or dill, easily grown in the garden.
If you don’t want to plant flowers in your yard, you can still attract butterflies to it by using containers of their favorite flowers. Here is a great combination to put in a pot for your patio: use Superbells, Calibrachoa, Tequila Sunrise, with Diamond Frost euphorbia, and add gaura and bright pink petunias for a beautiful and graceful display that butterflies can’t resist. Plant this combination in a 16-inch pot and place it in full sun. Another combination of plants includes guara with white phlox, and Cotton Candy Supertunia petunia. Add a Wine and Roses weigela, and you have a gorgeous assortment of plants to bring in the butterflies. This combination of plants should again be put in a 16-18 inch pot and placed in the sun.
Try not to use insecticides or bugzappers in your yard when you are trying to attract butterflies, as these are very harmful to the population. As an alternative, try the pheromone traps which are now available. They will successfully remove the males of many unwanted pests from your yard without harming lovely creatures, the butterflies!
To learn more about butterflies, especially the incredible monarch, visit the demonstration gardens at Myriad Gardens and discover what plants work to support the migration patterns of the Monarch butterfly. If you want to take a more active role in preserving the Monarchs, join the group Okies for Monarchs, www.okiesformonarchs.org. They sponsor activities and publish lots of information on how to make sure Monarch are around for future generations. Whatever you do, be sure to plant some butterfly-friendly plants in your landscape!
The monarch is a much-loved butterfly in our state, and we are right in the migration path.
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