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.
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Have you noticed hummingbirds have arrived back in our landscapes recently? Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures, delightful to watch and always welcome visitors in our yards. If you don’t have hummingbirds, there are many things you can do to make your garden a haven for hummers.
Three species of hummingbirds are regularly found in Oklahoma; two species, the Ruby-throated and the Black-chinned, nest in our state and are here during the summer months. The third species, the Rufous Hummingbird, does not nest in Oklahoma, but migrates through our state during the spring and fall.
Measuring 3-3/4 inches and weighing only 2.5 to 3.5 grams, the ruby-throated is Oklahoma’s smallest bird. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in character. Its flying agility is matched by no other in the animal kingdom and its chief competitor for food is not other birds, but nectar-loving insects.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the most common hummer found in Oklahoma.
It is also interesting to note that the hummingbird’s metabolic rate (the rate at which it uses energy) is the highest of any warm-blooded vertebrate except the shrew. They must consume over half their weight in sugars each day to fuel this high metabolism. In fact, a hyper hummer’s wings beat 70 times a second while hovering and up to 200 times a second during the diving, erratic flights of courtship. So they do need to eat often!
Hummingbird feeders are a great way to entice these beautiful little flyers to your neighborhood; feeders are plentiful in local stores and nurseries, and they are generally inexpensive. You can hang them anywhere, on eaves of your roof, on a shepherd’s hook in your garden, or even from a tree. You don’t have to buy special nectar to fill them – just mix 1 part sugar to four parts water (one cup sugar to 4 cups water, for example) in a pan and bring to a boil to dissolve all the sugar. No red food coloring is necessary – simply cool the liquid, fill your feeder, hang it in the yard and enjoy the show.
You should place your feeders out in mid-April (think tax time!) and maintain them until late October (think Halloween!) Nearly all hummingbirds have migrated south by the first of October, but occasionally stragglers, especially young birds, may be seen throughout October and these birds benefit from the energy boost you provide by keeping hummingbird feeders.
Hummingbird feeders are inexpensive and provide a good source of energy for hummingbirds in your garden.
Invite hummingbirds into your yard by creating an environment of flowers that they love. If you have a small yard, you can still attract hummingbirds to it by using containers of their favorite flowers. A wonderful combination to put in a pot for your patio includes two colors of Superbells, calibrachoa, Grape Punch and Miss Lilac, and some sweet potato vine for foliage. Plant this combination in a 12-inch pot and place it in full sun. Another combination of plants includes Summer Snapdragon, angelonia, blue or purple variety, and Superbells, calibrachoa, Dreamsicle, a peach color. Add some purple petunias and some lime green coleus for foliage, and you have a gorgeous assortment of plants hummingbirds will not be able to resist. This combination of plants should be put in a 16-18 inch pot and placed in the sun.
Hummingbirds will stay around until at least late September and they need lots of nectar to survive, so help them out – plant their favorite flowers, put out some feeders and enjoy the display!
Bee balm is easy to grow in Oklahoma and a favorite flower of hummingbirds.
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