What do you think of when you think about landscape gardening? I think of multitudes of flowering plants; trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials: greenery; broadleaved, needled, deep green to chartreuse. But there’s another kind of gardening – gardening with butterflies. Ok, it’s more accurate to say gardening for butterflies but it is fun to think of gardening in such a way as to have the result of beautiful static displays of color and texture and beautiful dynamic displays of color and texture in the form of butterflies. And you know what? Anyone can do it!
The first step is to get to know what butterflies are in your area and then provide food and nectar sources for them. There are 4 stages in the lifecycle of butterflies: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa and adult (imago). Caterpillars require leaves (food) to eat while butterfly adults require nectar from flowers. Butterflies have varied preferences as far as host plants are concerned. The following is a list of butterflies found in Kalamazoo County along with host plants for each.
Swallowtail – Tiger: lilac, black cherry, choke cherry Swallowtail – Black: carrot, queen anne’s lace, dill and parsley Swallowtail – Spice: sassafras, spicebush Swallowtail – Zebra: pawpaw Checkered White Sulphur: mustard Cabbage Butterfly: mustard, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower Clouded Sulphur: clover, vetch, legumes Orange Sulphur: alfalfa, clover American Copper: sheep sorrel Purplish Copper: baby’s breath, dock and knotweed Hairstreaks: hickory, oak, walnut, blueberry, pincherry, mallow Eastern Tailed Blue: pea Snout Butterfly: hackberry Great Spangled Fritillary: violet Baltimore: false foxglove, turtlehead, willow, honeysuckle Question Mark: elm, nettle, hops, hackberry Comma or Hop Merchant: elm, nettle, hops Compton Tortoise Shell: aspen, birch, willow Milbert’s Tortoise Shell: nettle American Painted Lady: pearly everlasting cudweed and burdock Red Admiral: nettle Buckeye: plantain, false foxglove, toadflax Viceroy: willow Wood Nymph: grasses Monarch: milkweed, butterfly weed, swamp milkweed Skippers: grasses. (from Michigan Butterflies and Skippers, Mogens Nielsen, MSU Extension 1999 edition http://shop.msu.edu/product_p/bulletin-2675.htm)
Locate your garden in a sunny area, provide large swaths of color and provide continuous blooms throughout the growing season. Include plants in your garden that caterpillars feed on and include shallow watering areas. Provide sheltered shady areas often need cool-down areas in hot weather and protection from wind, rain and predators. Consider using butterfly houses. Use pesticides cautiously because butterflies are easily killed by insecticides.
Some butterflies don’t consume nectar from flowers but prefer ripe fruit, sap flows and carrion. Provide overripe melon rinds and fruit to your butterfly garden.
Some general food sources are: carrot greens, ironweed (native), butterfly weed and milkweed (native), willow leaves, dogwood (Kousa Pagoda), hollyhocks, parsley and dill, nicotiana.
Some general nectar sources are: verbena, butterfly bush and butterfly weed, yarrow, ironweed, Joe Pye weed (native), monarda (bee balm), pincushion flower, salvia.
Butterfly gardening is fun and rewarding for any age but it seems like it might be especially so when done with children. Include your young ones in each step – planning, planting, maintaining and enjoying your colorful and dynamic new garden. You’ll have lots of opportunity for teaching and even more for simply enjoying the time together working with the beauty of nature.