Sunday, March 14, 2010

Butterfly Gardens

Butterfly populations can be greatly enhanced by devoting a portion of the landscape to butterfly habitat. In addition to their natural beauty, butterflies serve as valuable plant pollinators. The 3 necessary ingredients to attract and maintain butterfly populations all summer are: 1) nectar producing plants 2) larval food plants and 3) a shallow pool of water.

Nectar producing plants provide food for adult butterflies. Characteristics of good butterfly-attracting plants include: 1) sweet, pungent, and highly fragrant flowers 2) red, purple, orange, yellow or pink flower colors 3) simple, open flowers. Flowers that are deep throated or enclosed are not conducive to nectar collection. Most of the plants recommended as nectar food plants are herbaceous or woody perennials.

Although nectar-producing plants are necessary to attract adult butterflies, the ideal butterfly garden requires food plants and habitat for the larvae (caterpillars). Many of the grasses and wildflowers native to Georgia are suitable for larvae food. The plant material should be located in an undisturbed area that is free of pesticides.

If you have a limited landscapes area, 3 of the most commonly recommended plants for butterfly gardens are pentas, lantana, and butterfly bush. With mild winters and heavy mulching, pentas in south Georgia will sometimes survive as a perennial. Lantana and butterfly bush are excellent perennial shrubs that flower through the spring, summer and fall. Both plants should be cut back in February or March since flowers occur on new growth. To attract swallowtail butterfly, you can include fennel in your border plants.

Another necessary ingredient for a sustained butterfly population is a source of water. Butterflies will not drink from open, deep areas. It is necessary to provide one or more shallow water sources. Wet sand or mud makes an excellent watering hole. A saucer designed to fit beneath clay or plastic pots also make an excellent water source - just sand to make it shallow. A rock or other object added to the center of the saucer provides a resting spot for the butterfly.

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