Nothing heralds the gardening season more than the appearance of butterflies visiting flowers. The color of their wings rival and sometimes surpass the flowers themselves. Little brings more enjoyment to a gardener than the site of gossamer wings amongst the petals.
Current trends in California favor a more sustainable and natural landscaping approach, one that keeps our watershed and water quality foremost in mind. This trend works well for creation of butterfly gardens and the use of horticultural techniques to raise, attract and feed butterfly species and their progeny. Our Sonoma County climate is well suited for a myriad of species both endemic and migratory to the area. Butterfly species inhabit and travel across all portions of the county and beyond. In designing a butterfly garden, it is practical to appeal to local species to attract and lure onto a given property especially in terms of species protection and habitat construction. It is especially important to create and supply habitat for different stages in the butterfly life cycle.
A butterfly’s life is lived in four stages. Beginning with the egg state hatching into the larval (caterpillar) stage, followed by pupation where the caterpillar transforms into its final adult or winged stage. Mating occurs in the adult and the process begins again. This complex process coincides with the growth and flowering cycle of host and or nectar plant species. A butterfly garden should therefore be designed around both the caterpillar stage and the adult nectar sourcing stage to feed both active stages of the insects.
In general, it is beneficial to provide as many plants as possible to entice and feed butterflies because as a rule they alight and feed for more than a few seconds.
Following are some general hints for designing a butterfly garden:
– mass planting of nectar based flowers
– caterpillar food source plants in backround plantings and landscape or along fence lines
– potection areas for pupae stage
– proper soil preparation and plant selection for long term habitat
– sustainable approach to garden/landscape – less maintenance = less disruption
– Intergrated Pest Management practices to minimize any and all pesticide use
– plant selection appropriate to site, micro climate and desire (some butterfly species use weed plant species for nectar and food source and may not be desirable for landscapes)
– full sun exposure for nectar production and open vistas
– consider location of plants for best viewing – maintain distance to observe and not interfere
– additional food sources for minerals and nutrients such as composting (damp dirt spots will often attract several species)
– research local butterfly species to attract for best results including best plants for food and nectar sources
Keep in mind when researching and designing for a butterfly garden that knowledge of known butterfly species in the area will insure the best chance of success