Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Secrets of Butterfly Gardening

Blue Toadflax Nuttallanthus canadensis............... Buckeye caterpillar on toadflax.

Butterflies will not be impressed with how neat and precise a garden is. Zealous weeding may remove host plants growing naturally like toadflax. This spring toadflax has sprung up the entire length of the firebreak on the north and east sides of our yard, the width of the disc harrow that cut the firebreak. Other wildings grow there too; yesterday dark Swallowtails were nectaring on bluets. Eventually it will be mowed but not before it serves as both host and nectar area. I found caterpillars on toadflax in a flower bed.

Buckeye from last November.

Butterflies seek shelter. If there are no downed limbs, large leaves or loose bark, they may not find a place to hide and go elsewhere. Butterfly houses purchased for shelter seldom are sought out by butterflies but are attractive additions to garden decor. Wasps may find them great shelter for a big nest.

I research the butterflies common to my area. It is useless to plant nectar or host plants suggested for zone 8 if you garden in zone 6 or even in zone 8 in a different part of the country unless you know for sure those butterflies are seen there. Nectar plants are easy; hosts are specific to each butterfly's larvae. I commonly see Swallowtails and other butterflies nectaring together on lantana. The various Swallowtails each have a specific host plant or plants which may vary in different parts of the country. Some are not quite so picky and will use what is native. Sassafras substitutes for Spicebush here.

There are many online sources that show butterflies state by state, county by county. When my county isn't listed I look at adjoining counties. I try to note what on plants the butterflies were photographed.

Watch a butterfly in flight. They flit across open spaces to get to nectar plants.

Drifts of nectar plants delight butterflies. 
I divide single plants or take cuttings to insure there are plenty of plants.  

Yellow Sulphurs nectaring on Bath's Pinks the end of last week.
I've always had trouble with pics of Sulphurs because
they fold their wings when they light on a flower.

I try to provide continual nectar sources. When an early flush of bloom wanes I try to have another source coming into bloom. After azaleas bloom here, Pinks are still blooming and Sweet William and Larkspur coming on. There used to be a gap between early spring flowers and summer pretties from seed. Now is a good time to search the nurseries for desirable nectar plants from greenhouse growers. This past winter I dug and kept over Pentas plants so they would be ready for early visitors. Yellow Sulphurs were hovering over Pentas in bloom when I set them out to harden before planting.

Just say No! to pesticides and don't squish any caterpillars.
Parsley eaten to the ground will resprout, trust me.


  1. Thanks for the good info and for making it okay to leave a few things as nature intended. Your garden is incredible. I am a new follower.

  2. Great information - going beyond the oft heard advice of what to plant. We have lots of large leaves and brush at the back of our property in all seasons. We have sassafras and lantana. A couple of years ago the swallowtail caterpillars covered my fennel, but the fennel is gone now and needs to be replaced. I believe I'll plant some parsley, too!

  3. Yes indeed, very good information. I have plenty to interest butterflys but we do not have many here.

  4. Great post. Interesting that you say butterflies do not usually accept butterfly houses. We've installed a "wild bee hotel" which also includes a butterfly shelter. So far plenty of wild bees have taken up residence, but no butterflies yet. I certainly hope it doesn't attract wasps, which don't seem to need human help in surviving. Your garden looks beautiful, also in the previous post.

  5. Great tips. I have a lot of butterflies coming to the garden. And I plant a lot of parsley, so that we can have lots of Black Swallowtails. They are so lovely.

  6. I love seeing butterflies in the garden, though I'm sure I could do more to attract them. I've planted a 'butterfly garden' but it has become too shady, so most of the butterflies I see are in other parts of the garden. They are always a thrill to see.

  7. So glad you posted this, NellJean, thank you! I'm hoping for more butterflies this year and it's terrific to have this advice--very timely!

  8. Great tips! I would definitely like to attract more butterflies.

  9. Great tips.

    Still not much blooming in my area but I have seen a couple of different butterflies so far.

  10. Thanks for all the great tips. I am trying to attract more butterflies to my garden. I have blue toadflax growing in my woodland garden; I did not realize it was a host as well as nectar source for butterflies.

  11. Butterflies truly enhance the garden in warm Summer days. Your post was very informative and a treat to read.

  12. All wonderful notes and insights. Thanks for the great info. If I can add some...

    If you have a local botanical garden or even nurseries, you can walk through and see what types of butterflies are there and what they are attracted to. Go with those and you can't really go wrong.

    Also, butterflies love to sun themselves on flat rocks, so having several of those laying around the nectar sources will encourage them to do so.

    Oh, butterflies like to "puddle". I have a few shallow pyrex dishes of water with pebbles or sand in them so they can stop and get a drink. I'm eventually going to get a bird bath for this purpose, too, but I haven't found one i like yet!

  13. Your toadflax looks different than my toadflax. The Latin name for mine is Linaria. I had lots of buckeye caterpillars last year in my snapdragons and verbena bona. but forgot to check my toadflax. Great blog!!

  14. Blue Toadflax -- Nuttallanthus canadensis
    Another scientific name for Blue Toadflax is Linaria canadensis

  15. Fully agree! Live & let live everyone!


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

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