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Butterfly Garden: Attracting Color On Wings

Kids love butterflies, and planting the plants that nurture and attract them is an absolute delight. Here are some suggestions for a butterfly-attracting garden that will give kids hours of enjoyment, and dozens of ideas for spin-off learning activities all summer long.

You wouldn't need to have most of these plants to have success - just a few. If you really don't have much space, probably your best bet is a shrub called a "butterfly bush." It's almost guaranteed to draw butterflies in. A close second is a perennial plant called Stonecrop - 'Autumn Joy' Sedum.

Otherwise, if you can group quite a few of the same plants together in clusters, you'll serve our near-sighted butterfly friends. They'll be able to spot the feeding station more easily from the air.

Butterflies love weeds and relatively untended areas. The favorite plant of the regal monarch butterfly, for example, is the lowly milkweed. If you can possibly set aside a sunny meadow-type space, with tall plants as well as short ones, that looks more natural than "landscaped by humans," you'll attract a lot of the flying lovelies.

To really serve their needs, have a couple of "puddling stations" - places with moist sand or mud where rainwater forms little puddles where they can cool off, as well as "basking stations" - rocks sunk in dirt, or bare ground, easily warmed by the sun, where our cold-blooded butterfly friends can "lay out" and warm up.

The idea is to plan a few plants that adult butterflies will lay their eggs on because caterpillars like to feed on what they find right off the bat, and a few plants that adult butterflies can find nectar in. Then there are shrubs and trees that can provide wind blocks and provide butterfly food at the same time.

A benefit is that most of these plants like dry conditions, once they are established. So water three or four times a week for the first two or three weeks, and then just once a week if it doesn't rain. If it does rain, do nothing and just keep your eyes peeled, because you're going to see a butterfly show!

Those that provide food for caterpillars are marked with an L (for larval stage).


Aster 'New England'

Bee Balm (Monarda)

Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia)

Blanket Flowers (Gaillardia) - cut back after first bloom, and you'll get another round

Bottlebrush (Callistemon) - this shrub doesn't like cold winters, but if you have a protected spot out of the cold winter wind, and mulch its roots, it'll probably make it; bright red flowers are delightful.

Butterfly blue pincushion flower (Scabiosa columbaria 'Butterfly Blue') - cut back after first bloom is over for a second round of flowering

Butterfly flower (Schizanthus pinnatus) - also known as the "Poor Man's Orchid," this annual is best planted by the dozen or so; it comes in purple, magenta, red, pink and white; it is probably more available as seed rather than started plants; thin to 8" apart after they sprout.

Butterfly iris ((Spuria) - will stand 4-5 feet tall; has different shaped flowers than the regular iris and blooms later in the summer; needs sun at least a half-day, and likes lots of water.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) - likes to be dry once established; choose sandy soil or add sand before you plant to make sure it has good drainage; actually thrives on neglect, so don't worry about fertilizing.



L - Dill

Goldenrod (Solidago).


Honeysuckle - makes a great ground cover if you have space to just let it spread.

L - Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpurem) - gets as tall as 5 feet, so put it in the back.


Liatris 'Blazing Star'

L - milkweed.

L - mustard.

L - curly-leaf parsley.


Purple coneflower (Echinaceae purpurea) - likes to be dry once established

L - Red clover - it's a wildflower that's a popular food plant for blues and sulphurs.

Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) - likes it dry; don't ever prune

Stonecrop -- 'Autumn Joy' Sedum - blooms in late summer and you can't keep the butterflies off it, though it's not too exciting until then.

Tickseed 'Coreopsis verticillata'


L - Turtlehead.

Threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata)

Yarrow (Achillea)







Marigolds (Tagetes) - this familiar annual flower is easy to start from seed, and butterflies really go for the yellow, gold and orange varieties.







Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) - very fragrant, cone-shaped flower clusters; don't ever prune it during the growing season; it will die back to the ground in winter, and you can cut off the stems in early spring; then watch - it'll come back!




Wisteria - this shrub with its long clusters of fragrant blooms is thought to be a Southern plant, but they can do fine in Nebraska winters if they have a bit of a wind block.


L - American hackberry

L - Black cherry tree

L - Dogwood

L - Red Oak

L - Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Weeping Willow tree (Salix babylonica)

L - Wild Cherry

By Susan Darst Williams www.KidsGardenClub.org Themes 04 2010

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