One of the most challenging aspects of butterfly gardening lies in creating an environment attractive to both insects and the gardener. Beauty in the eye of an insect lies in the ultraviolet end of the color spectrum which is invisible to us. Purple is the butterfly's favorite color with orange and yellow close seconds.
The butterflies visiting our flowers are adult insects seeking nectar and a place to lay eggs. They like to lay the eggs where the larvae (a.k.a. caterpillars) will find plenty to eat when they hatch. Once the larvae have eaten their fill, they pupate, later to emerge as butterflies.
Believe it or not, caterpillars are picky eaters! Some feed on only one plant species. Monarch larvae feed exclusively on milkweed. The loss of this plant in the wild has led to marked decreases in their numbers. Swallowtails like parsley and dill. Cabbage white caterpillars eat any and all members of the cabbage family.
Attracting more adult butterflies to your yard requires only a sunny spot sheltered from the wind. A word of caution: If insect sting allergy is a concern, bees and wasps are attracted to many of the same nectar-rich flowers as butterflies. Think of flowers as signal flags guiding birds and insects to nectar and pollen.
If you want to add just one plant to attract the maximum in adult butterflies, chose a butterfly bush. These butterfly magnets flower in colors ranging from white to pink to dark purple. Each tiny flower has an orange eye. This deciduous shrub blooms on new wood. Cut it back in spring to one to two feet. It can grow six to 10 feet during the season. Deadheading leads to prolonged blooming. I suggest planting it near a window so you can enjoy the butterflies and hummingbirds it attracts.
If you're not ready for perennial commitment, buy a packet of zinnia seeds. Definitely go for mixed colors. Other equally easy choices are sulphureus cosmos and Mexican sunflowers. All of these annuals can be sown directly in the garden. Plants need to be massed together so that passing butterflies can find the area.
Butterfly gardening, whether to attract the adults or create an environment for the insects' complete life cycle, is growing in popularity as butterflies' natural habitats fall prey to development.
Master gardener Ann Bartlett never lets lack of familarity with a plant stop her from trying
it in the ornamental beds
around her home. Illustrations in this
article are by her artist daughter