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Flying Flowers

swallowtail butterfly on zinniaDo you want to be covered with butterflies? It’s easy! They want nectar and a place to lay eggs. Provide that, and they will come.

The life cycle of a butterfly is, of course, amazing! For a successful garden, avoid squishing any old caterpillar you see. You might be eliminating a Painted Lady or Red Admiral. Using herbicides can also threaten your plans for a natural habitat.

Some favorite plants of butterflies are Parsley, Dill, Fennel, Sassafras trees, and Milkweed. Adding flowers to the favorites mix will bring them fluttering to your site. Butterflies also like rotting organic matter, but that isn’t nearly as attractive! Adding rotten bananas and plastic sponges soaking in sugar water detracts from the setting. You won’t need to push things by creating an obviously unnatural vignette, if you plant the right attractors.

Here’s a list of top butterfly plants, if butterflies were doing the voting:

• Zinnia (obviously, from the picture)

• Butterfly Bush

• Lantana

• Milkweed

• Tithonia

• Parsley

• Hibiscus

• Penta

• Gaillardia

• Clover

• Daisy

• Yarrow

• Purple Coneflower

• Cosmos

• New England Aster

• Joe Pye Weed

• Butterfly Weed

• Goldenrod

• Lilac

• Tulip Poplar

• Spicebush

• Bee Balm

• Liatris

• Salvia

• Abelia

As you can see from the list, these are not low-maintenance species. A butterfly garden can get unkempt in short order. It helps to use low evergreens and mowed turf borders at the edges of beds to keep things neat. I’ve visited some very nice butterfly gardens where the only real structure came from the hardscape features. They were a mess! For a good design, provide some controlled edges.

A word of warning from someone who was just stung a few minutes ago by five yellow jackets. When you invite creatures to your garden, you will get diversity—good and bad. Take care when poking a shovel into heavy overgrowth in a truly natural environment—or wear tall boots and heavy canvas clothing!

A Butterfly Garden