Q. How do I attract butterflies to my garden? - Brittney Losee, San Simeon
A. Commonly called a floating flower, it is no wonder that butterflies are attractive in the garden. Enchanting to watch, the butterfly has few needs other than nourishment and a place to hang its hat, or chrysalis, as the case may be. When courting these fluttery beasts it is best to be considerate of the life cycle from egg to caterpillar, chrysalis to butterfly. Each stage has its own requirements. Fulfilling these needs will encourage butterflies for generations to come.
Most butterflies go through one full life cycle per year and adults only live for two to three weeks. During this time they require large amounts of energy to mate, reproduce, seek food and shelter.
There are many plants that provide nectar to butterflies. Among them: aster, cosmos, mallow, marigold, zinnia, butterfly bush, milkweed, salvias, flowered mints, dogbane, Joe Pye weed, ceanothus, lantanas and verbena.
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Butterfly larva requires host plants – including snapdragon, monkey flower, everlasting, daisy, burdock, willow, elm, poplar or birch trees, vetch, thistle, nettle and passion-vine. are plants that provide nourishment for caterpillars.
Remember that Host plants will get a bit of wear and tear, but damage is generally short-lived and usually not fatal. When looking to attract a particular butterfly, it is worth it to provide plants that are attractive to that specific breed.
Before planting it is best to know the butterflies and plants that are native to your area. When possible choose native plants that are well-suited to local conditions. Butterflies appreciate large swaths of color. Short, tubular flowers are also a good bet.
Butterflies are active from spring until fall; provide ample opportunity for them to visit during their active seasons.
A butterfly garden must be sunny (at least 5-6 hours a day) and sheltered from the wind. Shallow watering areas are will also be appreciated. by your fluttery friends. Most drink from moist soil or shallow puddles. A bucket filled with sand and enough water to sip will do. Sheltered, shady areas provide relief when summer days get hot, or wind, rain or and predators threaten. Flat stones placed in a sunny, protected area provide warm resting spots -- those delicate wings do get tired sometimes. Pesticides are best avoided, especially any with long lasting residues or those that affect a broad-spectrum of insects.
Finally, when your work is done, pull up a chair, sit still and watch your flowers float.