Q: Id love to create a habitat garden that encourages butterflies to visit. Can you make some suggestions for plantings? Kathi, Cambria
A: All that flying about in your garden is serious business for a butterfly or insect of the Lepidoptera order. The butterfly is looking for a host plant on which to lay its eggs, or flowers that provide nectar to replenish its energy. To maximize the opportunity for these beautiful flying flowers to get what they need in your garden, cultivate host plants that provide food for the butterflys caterpillar stage, and flowers that provide the adult butterfly with a much needed energy drink.
Depending on the species, some butterfly larvae, like those of the monarch, eat leaves from a specific plant. Monarchs dine on Asclepias or milkweed. Less picky species choose to dine on several plants.
Good bed and breakfast plants for butterflies in the larval stage are native plants such as: Arabis (rock cress), Astragalus (milk vetch, loco weed), Ceanothus spp., wild fennel, and sticky monkey flower. Viola support many local butterfly species.
Many California native plants provide nectar that will attract butterflies to your garden. Natives such as red columbine, yerba santa, wallflower, California mock-orange, coyote mint, California buckeye, wild buckwheat and sunflowers are butterfly favorites.
Common non-natives that attract butterflies are lantana, heliotrope, verbena, butterfly bush, valerian, yarrow, and mint.
In addition to nectar, butterflies need water. They tend to gather around puddles to sip. Fill a shallow container with moist sand and a few rocks to provide a perch for thirsty visitors.
For wonderful images and useful information about butterflies, among other insects, visit the bug squad blog at http://ucanr.edu/blogs/bugsquad.
Making your garden attractive to butterflies will provide you with an ever-changing colorful display and allow you to spend some time with a butterfly.