Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Create a Butterfly Flower Garden

Butterflies bring luck, happiness and riches. Most of us would settle for the momentary delight of spotting these jewel-toned beauties on the wing. As you plan your garden this spring, why not lay out the welcome mat for nature’s most charming insect? With a few simple strategies and a banquet of their favorite plants you could be enjoying the grace note butterflies add to any landscape.

There’s an unselfish aspect to creating a haven for these ephemeral creatures. Butterfly populations have been on the decline, especially in highly developed states. Offering them food and shelter will not only brings you the pleasure of their company, but will give native butterflies a better shot at survival.

Butterfly gardens make for “greener,” more eco-conscious gardeners. They require a cautious hand with pesticides, an awareness of native plants and an appreciation for the web of life. There is no butterfly without the caterpillar, no caterpillar without suitable plants for their nourishment.

A good butterfly habitat includes nectar sources for adults and the “weedy” host plants that support egg-laying and caterpillar growth. You needn’t make homely dill and nettles the centerpiece of your flower beds, but having them tucked in somewhere will support adult females and their offspring. The payoff is more homegrown butterflies fluttering around your blossoms.

Pesticides should, of course, be banned in the butterfly garden. Less obvious, perhaps, is that some biological controls favored by organic gardeners are also harmful. The bacterium BT, for instance, targets caterpillars and should be avoided.

There are a few general rules to keep in mind as you plan a spot where butterflies might congregate. An ideal butterfly garden offers plenty of sun, shelter from the wind and generous masses of nectar producing flowers.

There are many beautiful native flowers that will draw butterflies to your backyard and provide season-long bloom. Butterfly hatches occur sporadically from late spring through summer, so planting early, mid- and late season flowers will attract the largest number of visitors.

In addition to flowers, butterflies also enjoy supplemental treats including fruit if it’s slightly spoiled, so much the better. Another favorite snack is damp manure, useful for the minerals and salts it provides. Butterflies also will gather for “puddle parties” at shallow pools of water, especially in dry weather.