How to plan a butterfly garden

The winter months curtail any outdoor gardening activity, but this is a great time to dream and plan the garden for next year.
Over the winter months, many of my gardening columns will provide you with planning advice for a variety of gardens and plant ideas for the upcoming gardening season.
Whether you are an adult or child, a beautiful butterfly brings a sense of pleasure and wonderment when you see one in the yard or garden. Unfortunately, due to urbanization, butterflies are losing their habitats and these pleasurable sightings are becoming fewer and fewer.
By planting butterfly-attracting plants in your garden, you can provide appropriate habitat and increase those pleasurable sightings.
Butterflies seek nectar from plants for their food. By planting the appropriate plants with butterfly-attracting colours and an abundant supply of nectar, you can draw the butterflies into your yard.
Butterflies are attracted to the garden by a variety of plants that will successfully grow in our area. There are many perennials and annuals to choose from, so you can design your garden with a variety of plants, with overlapping bloom times and an array of colours.
Butterflies also require sun in order to survive. They are cold-blooded and require the sun to raise its body temperature in order to fly. Because of this requirement, you will see butterflies perching on trees and shrubs basking in the sun.
They will bask in the sun until their body reaches temperatures in the range of 86-104 F (30-40 C).
Because of this temperature requirement, butterflies are not very active on cloudy and cool days, and it will come as no surprise to you that most of the plants listed to attract butterflies are sun-loving ones.
It is highly recommended that when planning your butterfly garden that the best location is one that is sunny most of the day—and even better if the area is sheltered from the winds.
One of the best locations is a south-facing garden against the house (or other outbuilding) or your fence, or in a nook created by these structures.
You also can make a natural windbreak with tall plants at the back of your garden space on the west and north sides. This windbreak can be designed using plants other than those recommended for butterflies, as well.
You also can plant many of the recommended plants in container gardens, so you can have a butterfly garden even if you don’t have a garden.
When selecting your plants from the recommended list, I suggest you design your garden so you have a constant display of flowers from early in the season into the fall. That way, you can provide many species of butterflies with a food source.
You can ensure constant blooms by mixing the suggested perennials and annuals together in the garden. As butterflies can identify colour, a butterfly garden is most successful when a variety of colours are planted.
But if you want to stick to a particular colour scheme, there are many species of plants available in many colours.
A true butterfly garden also provides food for the larvae caterpillars. This means picking some plants that each species of butterfly prefers to lay their eggs on.
Many of these plants are common meadow plants such as daisies, goldenrod, Joe Pye weed, and milkweed. But some of these plants now come in a modern horticultural hybrid.
You can do further research by getting a butterfly book from the library so you can provide the correct plants if you want to attract a certain species common in the region.
Unlike other parts of your garden, you actually will want to encourage larvae caterpillars in this part of the garden. You may find unwanted pests such as aphids and beetles here, as well.
Just keep in mind that any pest removal techniques must be natural and organic so as not to kill the caterpillars, too. Aphids are effectively controlled with a strong blast of water from the hose while beetles can be removed by hand picking.
If you are trying to attract birds or butterflies to the garden, it is always best to practice organic gardening techniques in the rest of the yard and garden, too.
Below is a list of recommended annuals and perennials you can use to design your butterfly garden. I hope you enjoy both designing the garden and viewing the plethora of butterflies that it will attract in the future.
Just be patient with a new garden as it may take a while for the butterflies to find their new habitat. But once they do, it will be well worth it.
Annuals recommended for a butterfly garden (a variety of colours are best) include snapdragon, pansy, zinnia, marigold, cosmos, heliotrope, sunflower, nasturtium, and morning-glory.
Perennials recommended include butterfly bush, tickseed (butter daisy), liatris, lupine, allium (ornamental onion), aster, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, false sunflower, globe thistle, goldenrod, milkweed, Joe Pye weed, St. John’s wort, sneezeweed, and rockcress.
Still others are lilies (all varieties), bee balm, foxglove, cornflower (perennial bachelor’s button), gloriosa daisy, pinks (Dianthus), and honeysuckle (perennial vine).

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