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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Give The Butterflies an Invitation to Stay





Dreaming of a landscape which provides a home for hummingbirds and butterflies? With a little planning, patience and effort it is very possible. When food, water, shelter and nesting sites are available the wildlife will find their way to your yard.
For a successful butterfly garden you have to remember to provide food sources for both the caterpillars as well as the adults.

This is as easy as just letting the naturally wild "weeds" alone. Food sources for caterpillars are Plantain, Wild carrot, Violets, Milkweeds, and Nettles. Trees such as the Sassafras, Willow, Cherry, Tulip Poplar, and bushes such as Roses and Spicebush are often in the natural landscape anyway.

 Early spring arrivals include violets, nettles and,dandelions.
Violets
Stinging Nettles
Natural plant sources for feeding adult butterflies include Milkweed, Red clover, Thistles, Goldenrods, and Eupatorium (Joe Pye weed).

Joe Pye Weed

Goldenrod

Milkweed
Plants to consider adding to your natural landscape should include a variety so that something is always in bloom from spring right through till autumn. If these perennials like where they are planted they'll return year after year. Choose sunny locations with good drainage.

Butterfly Bush
Butterfly Weed
When you think butterflies the most common plant to come to mind is the Butterfly Bush. Easy to grow these bushes are hardy in zones 5-9, get to be 8-10' tall and need full sun. The buddleias are stunning landscape plants with gorgeous purple, white or even orange flowers. They bloom all season and usually are left alone till spring when they are cut back to green growth or all the way to the ground. Though the Butterfly Bush is so popular, it is now on the list of invasive plants that compete with our natives.

Butterfly weed (Asclepius tuberosa) is a butterfly magnet growing in zones 3-9, getting about 2' tall, and likes full sun. Drought resistant, if this plant likes where it is planted it will be trouble free for years. The Asclepius family of plants is an important food source for both caterpillars and adults, particularly the Monarch butterflies.


Keys of Heaven
Another winner for butterflies is the Keys of Heaven (Centranthus ruber). These red beauties are drought-tolerant and long lasting. Grown in zones 4-9, they get to be 2-3' tall and need full sun. After flowering if you cut back the spent blossoms you may get another bloom time closer to Autumn.


Pretty pink Phlox (Phlox paniculata) is a must for both butterflies and hummingbirds.
They grow in zones 4-5, get 18-24 inches tall and like full sun. For the best show these plants do best in mass plantings.

Monarda or Beebalm will happily naturalize if you let it. These dark pink to magenta flowers love full sun, grow in zones 4-8 and will reach about 4 ' tall. Loved by birds, hummingbirds, and butterflies alike.
Phlox
Beebalm

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle with its tubular flowers are loved by visiting hummingbirds. Just offer a trellis or some structure for them to grow with lots of sun and they'll do well.

For late summer some wonderful considerations to include are the American native Coneflowers (Echinacea), Asters, Sedums and Tithonia (Mexican sunflowers).

Coneflower
The butterflies and bees love the nectar provided by coneflowers all summer long, and then come fall they turn into this neat porcupine looking seed pack which offers seeds to the birds during the winter. Heat, drought and neglect won't faze these usually dark pink or white beauties. The grow in zones 4-8, get 18-30" tall and like full sun. If the word Echinacea sounded familiar that is because these are the plants where the roots are utilized as an immune system booster.

New England Asters
Coinciding nicely with late summer migrations the stunning New England Asters unfold their awesome blue display at a time when most of our summer blooms have said goodbye. Grown in zones 5-9, these carefree flowers grow to 2' and spread out a good 2-3 ft. and they also like sun.

Sedum
Sedums are pretty all summer with their succulent type leaves, but you will love to watch the late summer progression of color as they start out pink and fade to a mahogany color.

Tithonia
Tithonia or Mexican sunflowers are late summer blooming annuals worth the wait. Their multi-branching stems are not only visibly beautiful, but are very appreciated for the arrival of the monarchs in August and September.


Even if you don't intend to plant a vegetable garden, consider the Scarlet Emperor Pole Bean. These climbing beans need some type of support as they can climb 8-10'. This pretty annual will provide large 6-8" fuzzy beans which are certainly edible, but often people grow them for their scarlet-orange flowers which are a draw for hummingbirds.

Scarlet Emperor Pole Bean

These are just a few of the many options you have as a homeowner wanting to be more in tune with your natural environment and help these little creatures survive. What's more I haven't had too much of a problem with deer bothering the above plants. As long as they have the right conditions they do fine. As far as maintenance, these perennials do need to be cut back in the Fall after frost. I do let the Butterfly Bush alone until late Spring and cut back till I see green growth. Some types die back all the way to the ground.
Of the above, the Coneflowers and Beebalm will spread if given the chance. Even the Butterfly Bush will pop up here and there if you let it.

The best way to learn is by doing. Keep notes on what does best in what location. Expect to lose some as you learn. I transplanted many a time to see if a plant will do better somewhere else, as well as had to spend money a second time around. Perennials need 2-3 years to establish their roots before they can put forth their full energy above the ground. Be patient and just enjoy the life and energy.