Plant fast food for butterflies on the wing
BOSTON — What fun to gaze through a window at graceful butterflies flitting through the air. Or to walk outdoors and be surrounded by these gossamer-winged beauties.
That's the promise of butterfly gardening - attracting an array of these colorful creatures to even the smallest yard. It doesn't matter if your garden is just a city porch or patio, or whether it's the size of a football field.
To entice butterflies to make their home in your yard, instead of being just occasional visitors, give them what they need at different stages of their life cycle. Butterflies want sunshine, shelter from the wind, a source of nectar, no pesticides, and plants on which to lay their eggs.
Which plants are guaranteed to draw butterfly diners? It varies from place to place, but popular choices are single flowers with petals wide enough for butterflies to perch upon, such as coneflowers or coreopsis, or tiny clusters of blooms arranged horizontally, like Queen Anne's lace and yarrow.
Strong-scented plants such as heliotrope, lilac, and viburnums captivate nectar-seeking butterflies. So do colorful blossoms. Experts disagree on which hues are best, but a smorgasbord of red, yellow, white, purple, pink, and yellow flowers will say "eat here" to a variety of species.
Patches of plants entice more butterflies than a single blossom here and there. If you want them to stick around, extend your garden's blooming season so that at least one type of plant is in blossom from spring until autumn.
Growing the host plants on which butterflies deposit their eggs is also important to keep them in your yard as long as possible. Some butterflies lay eggs only on specific plants. Host plants for monarchs are always members of the milkweed family. But other butterflies are generalists that favor whatever looks good at the moment.
The eggs hatch into caterpillars, which rapidly consume the plant's leaves and, sometimes, stem. Eventually the mature caterpillar spins a chrysalis from which an adult butterfly will emerge in several weeks.
It can be disturbing to find fat caterpillars munching on the foliage of a favorite plant. But without caterpillars, there won't be any butterflies. Many people simply plant enough for themselves and the caterpillars.
You can learn more about butterfly gardening on the Internet:
*Monarch Watch - www.monarch watch.org/garden/index.htm
*Butterflywebsite - butterflywebsite.com