Sunday, November 29, 2009

Can I Start a Butterfly Garden Now?

What? Butterflies are gone for the season? Think about that next spring! Maybe not. One early spring night I went out to photograph hyacinths in the dark. When I came inside, there were Sulphur butterflies in the pics. Hyacinths are a choice for nectar plants. I'm about to plant more hyacinths.

Parsley can be started inside or seed scattered outside to come up later as a potential spring host for Black Swallowtails who will be coming to nectar on Azaleas in late March. Beds can be laid out now, paths put into place and shrubs planted.

What butterflies prefer depends on what is available. Echinacea is listed as a nectar plant. It's popular in spring before more enticing plants start blooming in summer, ignored later.
The same is true of vitex.

When I discover a popular plant, I plant lots of it. Lantana planted along the edges of the garden on the west side near the open highway right of way attracts many different species. Lantana camara blooms well when the weather gets extremely hot and dry. Lantana montevidensis blooms best in cooler spring and fall and doesn't die back as much as L. camara, which disappears with the first  freeze.

A pair of Zebra Swallowtails on Lantana.
Lantana is frequently visited in summer by the floaty zebra swallowtail, which drifts on over to a native Asimina triloba that planted itself in a great spot for caterpillars.

PawPaw in Bloom, Zebra Swallowtail host plant.

Tropicals like Pentas, Stachytarpheta and Tithonia are popular nectar plants with Swallowtails of all kinds and Gulf fritallaries.

Tithonia is popular with Monarchs.

Pride of Barbados must be started from seed inside, late winter, to bloom in summer.

Native gaillardia is popular with fritillaries and some tiny checkerspots.

Sites abound on the web to discuss which host plants attract which butterflies. I've noticed that native plants vary among states and regions.
Spicebush is usually listed as the host for Spicebush swallowtails. Here they are found on Sassafras, another aromatic.

Tiger Swallowtails, Georgia's State Butterfly, are hosted by wild cherry in my garden; elsewhere they seek out sweet bay or tulip poplar. Tigers appear with azaleas in early spring, then return later when other nectar plants are blooming.

Painted Ladies visit rabbit tobacco, thistles and peavines to lay eggs, by availability.

Buckeye larvae may be found on snapdragons, plantains and toadflax, where available. In fall, Slender False Foxglove, Agalinis tenuifolia acts as a late host and nectar plant for Buckeyes. Goldenrod is another nectar source for fall butterflies.

Sulphurs lay eggs on various hosts, including both wild and cultivated cassias.

There are many other nectar sources; zinnias are popular with butterflies from summer through fall. Butterflies, their hosts and nectar sources fill entire books. Minno and Minno's book was recommended to me as a good book for southern garden butterfly information.

Information on Butterfly hosts was obtained from Ichauway Plantation, site of the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center and by personal observation.


  1. I saw a Painted Lady on my fernleaf lavenders today. They loved my Tithonia this year also. The Tithonia has lots of visitors, actually. It is one of the most popular plants in my butterfly/wild garden, in a virtual tie with the zinnias.

  2. What gorgeous exotic looking butterflies your garden has. What is the first beautiful blue one called? We had painted ladies in abundance this Spring. They liked the wallflower and pansies.

  3. I don't think you can have too much Tithonia, Villager. Mine grew to great heights and attracted many visitors, too.

    Yan, the blue one is a Spicebush Swallowtail, or is it a Pipevine Swallowtail? I tend to confuse all the Swallowtails that are dark colored, except for female Tiger Swallowtails, which are easy to distinuish if you can see the underside of their wings.

  4. Neil Jean,
    WE use single blooming zinnias as one of the main butterfly attractors in our garden. The best plant we have is Verbena bonariensis if you ask me a garden without this plant is not a butterfly garden. Our butterfly garden has seen 76 species of butterflies!

  5. Great pictures! I appreciate the effort involved. In my garden I see a group of Butterflies RUN inside for the camera and return just in time to see them flying away over the hedges laughing. Yes, it's a fact Butterflies can laugh. Seen it myself.

  6. Randy, I'll need to make a second butterfly garden post to put in all the things I left out of this one.

    V. bonariensis is a good spring plant here, but gets mildrew, and melts out in the summer. Maybe it is a regional thing. I expect to see it again in the spring.

    It was warm today, and two kinds of sulphurs ventured out, some Gulf frits and the single Monarch that forgot to head south with the others.

    Sanddune, I know about the laughing butterflies. Zebra Swallowtails are the only cooperative butterflies I know. If you ask, aloud, they will pose. Don't let the neighbors hear you.

  7. I wonder that you also considering caterpillars. If you want, you can try citrus plants and you would get those swallowtails breeding in your place.

  8. Beautiful photos! I love butterflies and yours are fabulous.

  9. Butterfly weed is iffy for us. It doesn't usually winter over. My best luck for butterfly pics is liguaria, day lilies and herbs that we let flower. i only have a 3x camera so I have to sneek up on them. I have real good luck with bees.

  10. Woah..these are all truly beautiful photos..I am is nice to see different species..such a treat! Beautiful colors wiht the contrast of the butterfly..especially the black one..very beautiful! Fantastic job...informational and alot of eye candy for butterfly enthusiasts like me!!Fantastic post!Congrats on your awards..and thankyou I noticed my blog on your sidebar..that is truly sweet and generous of you.I am honored.

  11. Butterflies can't be addressed in just one post. James, the host plants are for caterpillars. Citrus doesn't grow here without extra protection, so I doubt it would attract butterflies who belong in a warmer environment, not venturing this far north. It would be an interesting experiment. My fav nursery had kumquat trees the other day, for $60 each. She said they needed covering during freezes. A chancy proposition for such an expensive little tree. Maybe I could start some seeds.

    Jim, I'll have to look up the pics of the butterflies diving into a daylily for nectar, and true lilies, too.

    Kiki, thanks, it's a pleasure.

  12. Beautiful photos Nell Jean! A great post . . . it is such a joy to have butterflies in our gardens. Birds sadly enjoy them as much as we do.

  13. Wonderful post!! I love all the information you have in it about plants for butterflies. Your photos are stunning. Thank you for this post.

  14. When I took the class on gardening for butterflies and pollinator, they emphasized how important consistent amounts of nectar and pollen are. I now pay much more attention to having blooms most times of the year (but you're probably doing that already...)


I look forward to comments and questions and lively discussion of gardening and related ideas.

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