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Weekly Gardening Tips for Your Area


Attract Butterflies: Pacific NW

Lynn Coulter
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spring azure butterfly 


Butterflies bring movement and color to our gardens. Welcome these winged visitors to your Pacific Northwest garden with an island bed filled with plants for caterpillars and adults.

Begin by offering your butterflies the essentials:

  • A few flat stones or pavers, so they can rest and warm themselves in the sun.
  • A spot for “puddling” where they can drink water and extract minerals. To make a puddle, put a shallow pan filled moist, coarse sand in the island bed.
  • An pesticide-free zone. Avoid using chemicals anywhere butterflies visit.
  • Nectar plants for adult butterflies and foliage and other food plants for caterpillars. Use flowers that bloom in succession, and plant in masses of color to help the butterflies find them. Red, yellow, pink, purple and orange blossoms with short tubes or flattened flower heads are best.

Butterflies For Pacific Northwest gardens:

Western Tiger Swallowtails – Swallowtails are big, beautiful butterflies that are easily recognized by the “forked tail” on their hind wings. Western Tigers are often found on garden lilacs, which they find irresistible; they are bright yellow butterflies with black, tiger-like stripes.

Painted Lady – Painted ladies have orange and brown splotches on their wings and splashes of pink on their fore-wings that give them their name. American Painted Ladies have two blue “eyes” on the underside of their hing wings; they can tolerate cold climates and range into Canada.

Mourning Cloak – This butterfly takes its name from its somber brownish-maroon wings, which are edged with off-white. In the sun, the upper wings reveal blue dots and an iridescent sheen. Adults will dine on rotting fruit and meadow flowers. You may hear Mourning Cloaks make a clicking noise if you surprise them while they’re perched on a tree or shrub.

Spring Azure –  Sometimes called the Common Blue, Spring Azures are among the first butterflies to appear each spring. Their wings are powder-blue and silvery gray. In the larvae stage, Spring Azures secret honeydew, a sweet liquid that ants drink; ants will protect the larvae as a food source.

And more – Look for a field guide to butterflies in your region to discover other fascinating and beautiful species.

A sampler of plants To Grow In or Near your butterfly island bed:


Flowering dogwood, Kousa dogwood. Mourning Cloaks also like tree sap. Find tree planting tips here.


Mint, borage

flowers and other nectar plants

Rose, verbena, lavender, dianthus, Shasta daisy, aster, daylily, salvia, coneflower, zinnia


Abelia, clethra, rhododendron, forsythia, butterfly bush, lilac

Dress up your island butterfly bed with an ornamental butterfly house. It’s easy to build from a kit and makes a fun family project.

Image credit, Spring Azure butterfly: Shutterstock/Johannviloria

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