Butterflies bring movement and color to our gardens. Welcome these winged visitors to your Southern garden with an island bed filled with plants for the 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,” fill a shallow pan with coarse sand and put it in your island bed. Keep the soil moist.
- An pesticide-free zone. Avoid using chemicals where 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 flowerheads are best.
Butterflies For Southern gardens:
Swallowtails – Pipevines, Zebras, and other swallowtails are big, beautiful butterflies that are easily recognized by the “forked tail” on their hind wings. The Giant Swallowtail is the largest of all North American swallowtails. Swallowtails visit garden flowers and native plants such as Dutchman’s pipe (sometimes called pipevine), wild ginger, and milkweed.
Monarchs – Its familiar orange and black wings make the Monarch one of our most popular butterflies. Females lay their eggs on milkweed plants–a good reason to leave a few ungroomed or weedy patches around your yard. Each fall, migrating monarchs journey to Mexico for the winter.
Fritillaries – These butterflies are typically orange, sienna and brown in color, with dots and lines on their upper wings. The Great Spangled Fritillary, which boasts a wingspan of almost 4 inches, ranges from the southern U.S. to Canada.
Buckeyes – You’ll spot buckeyes by the two large, blue eyespots on their wings, which help deter predators by making them think the spots are a bird’s eyes, rather than a butterfly’s wing markings. Buckeyes are common in the South, but don’t appear to venture into the northwestern U.S.
Sulphurs – As you’d guess from the name, Sulphurs are brilliant yellow butterflies. They’re small to medium in size and frequent fields and patches of weeds or grass, where they lay their eggs. The Cloudless Sulphur is a bright lemon-yellow color, while its smaller relative, the Clouded Sulphur, is pale yellow.
And many 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 your butterfly island bed:
Citrus, willow, oak, redbud, pear, dogwood. Find tree planting tips here.
Dill, parsley, rue, yarrow
Lantana, sunflower, coneflower, ageratum, aster, daisy, marigold, zinnia, pansy, passionflower, milkweed, pentas, red clover, hibiscus, verbena, snapdragon
Abelia, summersweet, azalea, blueberry, butterfly bush, viburnum
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, Buckeye butterfly: Shutterstock/StevenRussellSmithPhotos
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