By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
I believe that butterflies, some of the most beautiful, magnificent, and interesting creatures in any garden, are God’s gift to gardeners. Fortunately, butterfly numbers are increasing in our landscapes. The reason so many butterflies are appearing in our gardens is that they are losing their natural habitats. The building of homes, roads, and farms in Arizona all contribute to the increased butterfly populations in cultivated gardens. Creating a butterfly garden is an easy way to attract more butterflies for our enjoyment while improving their environment.
Gardening for butterflies is a source of something beautiful and rewarding. It is easier than you might imagine to get these fairy-winged creatures to flutter your way. Butterfly larvae and caterpillars need plants for food, and adult butterflies need plant nectar, so the ideal butterfly garden must fulfill both of these requirements. It is simply a matter of choosing the right plants to attract butterflies and then to encourage them to stay.
Most inviting to butterflies are gardens with sunny areas sheltered from the wind, areas with garden mulch, rock crevices, brush piles, and yes, even some weeds. Because of the many different flowers in a good butterfly garden, it soon becomes a place of beauty. A butterfly garden can be any size: a window box, part of your landscaped yard, and even a wild untended area on your property.
Among the plants irresistible to butterflies are:
Milkweed – It is the most common host for Monarch butterflies…but milkweed nectar is also highly sought by many other butterfly species. Aside from attracting Monarch butterflies for egg laying, milkweed entices swallowtails, painted ladies, American ladies, red admirals, fritillaries, and hairstreaks to their nectars. Milkweed also draws hummingbirds and hummingbird moths to the garden for its nectar.
Shasta Daisy – This perennial bloomer produces HUGE white flowers that are irresistible to anything with wings, and butterflies cannot stay away! (The blossoms of this season-long bloomer have been exceptional this spring.) A bonus characteristic of this popular plant is that rabbits, deer, and pack rats don’t care for this beautiful butterfly magnet.
Coreopsis – The yellow flowers of this lush plant seem to glow in the garden even in the brightest light. This perennial never stops showing color all summer long. Hint: Shear the plant back with hedge clippers after each flush of blooms start to fade; it quickly will bloom all over again several times a year.
Echinacea – If you have a sunny spot that needs planting, there are lots of reasons to grow a purple coneflower. Butterflies of many varieties love sipping its nectar, and it is very heat and drought tolerant. Also, because it blooms all summer long it’s the perfect addition to a cutting garden.
Anise Hyssop – There also are lots of reasons to grow anise hyssop. Deer and rabbits leave it alone. Like echinacea it is heat and drought tolerant, and blooms for weeks in late summer. Also, it’s a good source of cut flowers, and, of course, butterflies love it.
Salvia – There’s a salvia for every garden: some salvias are tall, others are short; some salvias have blue or purple blooms, and others have red, orange, or pink flowers. While you might have trouble choosing a salvia, butterflies won’t – rest assured that whichever salvia you plant they’ll flock to it every summer.
Miss Huff Lantana – Colorful is the definition for the flowers of this lantana. It blooms all summer long in glowing shades of lavender, pink, red, orange, yellow, cream, and white. A versatile plant, it looks perfect in containers or beds or borders. Butterflies will agree that this lantana is an outstanding addition to your garden.
Pentas – An all-around garden champion, pentas bears clusters of star-shaped blooms in bright shades of pink, red, and white. It loves hot conditions, holds up to drought pretty well, and is a sure bet for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds looking for a snack.
Zinnia – Just about everyone loves zinnias, which is why they’re favorites of butterfly gardeners, cottage gardeners, and beginning gardeners. They bloom in an almost endless range of colors and, whether outdoors or in a vase, they look good all summer long.
Black-eyed Susan – This tough perennial blooms in late summer. Its big, yellow, daisy-shaped flowers are as perfect for bouquets as it is for butterflies.
Verbena – This plant is perfect for cut bouquets because its blossoms will not be depleted. The more you cut, the more it blooms, guaranteeing a supply of lavender-purple blooms at the ready for butterflies to enjoy, too.
The choices go on and on. Click here for the entire list of plants that attract butterflies.
Until next week, I’ll see you at the garden center.