There has been an increasing interest in butterfly gardening in the last couple of years. Aunt Effie’s has sponsored the Raymond Cree Middle School’s Butterfly Garden and supported the Desert Horticultural Society in their event last year that featured Butterfly and Hummingbird Gardening.
We decided to write this week’s article with the help of Mountain States Wholesale Nursery and Tucson botanist Greg Starr. Additionally, two sources of information were particularly helpful: the booklet “Desert Butterfly Gardening”, published by the Arizona Native Plant Society and the Sonoran Arthropod Studies Institute; and the book “Native Gardens for Dry Climates”, by Sally and Andy Wasowski.
In a butterfly garden you should provide both nectar sources and larval foodplants. Adult butterflies feed on the nectar of certain flowers, while the caterpillars feed on specific plants known as “larval foodplants”. Try to combine plants to provide a year-round source of nectar, if possible. Limit or eliminate the use of pesticides and other chemicals in the garden, as they can kill caterpillars and adult butterflies. You can expect butterflies to be most active during ideal conditions: Sunny, calm days, when the temperatures range from 65 to 95 degrees fahrenheit. They seem to prefer early mornings and evenings during the hot summer months.
1. Provide a variety of plants that feed larval and adult butterflies. Food plants need to provide for two different stages of the butterfly’s life: larval and adult. Therefore, it is important to have an adequate mix of plants that will support larvae and other plants that will be available for the adults.
2. Emphasize massing of plants. Massing should be relatively greater in butterfly gardens compared to bird gardens. This is due to the greater recognition factor of plant masses rather than a singular plant by adult butterflies. Use of accent plants (unique shape such as agaves or yuccas) with the many masses can create effective contrast and interest for the garden visitor.
3. Provide sunny, wind-protected locations. Butterflies are cold-blooded and need sunlight to warm the muscles they use to fly, and protection from wind when feeding.
4. Provide a puddle. Butterflies require a shallow puddle or moist soil for water. A slow dripping emitter near a water-loving plant can fulfill this need.
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