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Landscape and Gardening

Nancy Palmer, Master Gardener
For  more information call 941.764.4340

Have you ever wanted to start a butterfly garden? Here are some tips from a University of Florida fact sheet to get you started.

Necessary components:

  1. Nectar sources (flowering plants) that will attract and nourish the adult butterflies are crucial. Certain butterfly varieties prefer certain flowers, and the same goes for their larva, so a bit of research is in order.
  2. Larval host plants are equally important. Once the adult butterflies discover your garden, provide them with places to deposit their eggs and plants that will nourish their larva. Yes, the caterpillars will eat the host plants; consider them sacrificial. The plants will grow back.
  3. Shelter provides protection from predators, places to roost and protection from inclement weather. Shelter usually comes in the form of shrubbery.
  4. Water needs to be available. Fountains allow the butterfly to come to the perimeter to have a drink.

Garden design components

  1. In order to attract as many species as possible and to keep them nearby, be sure to provide a wide variety of nectar and larval plants. Scarlet Milkweed provides both: nectar for the adult; leaves to munch for the caterpillars. This is the exception rather than the rule, so prepare to be adding some plants to your garden.
  2. Incorporate native plants because they are often the food that caterpillars need. As a bonus, native plants are well adapted to our soils and don’t need to be pampered.
  3. Provide colorful flowers and different flower shapes. Certain species are attracted to specific colors. Red, orange, and yellow are popular, but research and personal preferences will guide you.
  4. Provide as much variety in your plantings as possible. Try to include trees, shrubs, vines, and a variety of annuals and perennials as you plan your garden.
  5. Intentionally plant mass groupings, rather than one plant here, another over there. Masses of color are inviting to the butterflies, and esthetically appealing to us.
  6. Think about sun and shade. There are more species that prefer sun, but some prefer shade.
  7. Group together plants that have the same cultural requirements. Put plants that like sunny, dry conditions where they belong, and the more tender shade lovers in a spot that is right for them. In other words: right plant; right place.butterfly

Garden maintenance

  1. Give your new plants a good start. Choose the right locations, and establish new plantings with regular hand watering, and mulch to help retain moisture and regulate soil temperatures. Do not mulch right up to the base of your new plantings, as this can promote rot.
  2. Avoid pesticides. If you panic at the sight of caterpillars munching your plants to nubs, and you apply a pesticide, you will never have butterflies in your garden.
  3.  Fertilize your plants appropriately to keep them healthy and productive. Note that native varieties require less fertilizer and water, once established.
  4.  Learn to identify the butterfly varieties that visit your garden, and provide for their needs.

There are several wonderful fact sheets on gardening for butterflies put out by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the University of Florida IFAS/EDIS (Electronic Data Information System). When you begin searching for appropriate plants, please remember that PGI is planting zone 9b/10a. Read plant labels and choose accordingly.

Suggestions to begin:

Choose a visible location for your new garden, and enjoy your adventure into Butterfly Gardening.

Although we do not have our monthly Master Gardener Clinics during the summer,
the Master Gardener Plant Lifeline continues Monday, Wednesday, and Friday between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m.
at the Extension Office on Harbor View Road, Port Charlotte. Call 941-764-4340 for information.