What’s a butterfly garden without butterflies?  Roy Rogers

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Tiger swallowtail visits a butterfly bush

 

Planting a butterfly garden is a hopeful enterprise which often has its rewards in the future and not in the same year of the planting. Typically, a couple of years is needed to provide abundant blooms and the subsequent attracting of butterflies. In my experience, the best butterfly gardens are those that include, as much as possible, the host plants that visiting butterflies will use for laying eggs for their caterpillars. Try planting a few blueberry bushes as several hairstreak butterflies us this as a host plant.

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Striped hairstreak on common milkweed. Host plants for caterpillars include blueberry and oaks

When butterflies start to visit the garden, try to identify them and see if they may be laying eggs on already existing plants (like oaks and cherry, for instance, if tiger swallowtails are present). Having nectar sources nearby  the host plants for the caterpillars is a strong factor in what attracts butterflies to an area. So I say, if you plant it, they will come. Maybe. Sometime. They have to find it, so it can take time. If they are already passing through and laying eggs on suitable host plants, then nectar will keep their offspring coming back  to do the same.

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Black swallowtail caterpillar with egg just underneath the leaf- Cohen pollinator and butterfly garden in Colchester

I have planted a native willow for Mourning Cloaks that come through the property every year. A sassafras that appeared several years ago has now become a regular host plant for the spicebush swallowtails that visit the garden for nectar. When you see any butterflies, egg laying should shortly follow, if it has not already taken place. This is why host plants in the vicinity of nectar sources is so important when planning a butterfly garden.A lone tiger swallowtail visited my garden late this spring and three weeks later I found its tiny caterpillar on a small black cherry sapling I had transplanted earlier that spring. It was barely in the ground and already had become a host plant.

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The Cohen Woodlands Butterfly-Pollinator Garden in Colchester. Parsley in the foreground attracts black swallowtail females.

 

Three of the best butterfly gardens I have been to this year are the one at the Tolland County Agricultural Center in Vernon, the Cohen-Woodlands pollinator- butterfly garden in Colchester, and the Fletcher Library Garden in Hampton. The one thing all these gardens have in common is a good selection of three season nectar sources and nearby host plants. Four monarch caterpillars were on the butterfly weed in the Fletcher Library just two weeks ago, and one was on milkweed in the Cohen garden on September 5th. That is great news for the Monarchs which have suffered from devastating population declines in recent years.

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Monarch caterpillar on milkweed at the Cohen Woodlands butterfly- pollinator garden

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This Monarch caterpillar just left its butterfly weed host plant in search of a suitable spot to pupate at the Fletcher Library garden in Hampton

Plant parsley, fennel or dill if black swallowtails visit a garden. Small cherry and spicebush attract tiger swallowtails and spicebush swallowtails, respectively. Viceroys will lay eggs on willow and poplar and red- spotted purples lay eggs on cherry. Skippers for the most part prefer grasses for their larva, but the silver- spotted skipper, a frequent visitor to any garden, likes legumes. Pearl crescents like asters, and these flowers are visited by many migrating butterflies as most other nectar sources are going by in late summer.

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Wild Indigo Duskywing on Salvia. Plant Baptisia for its caterpillars.

A must plant for pollinators, butterflies and hummingbirds is Caryoptersis, also known as bluebeard. This perennial blooms from late- summer until fall. Lantana is a terrific annual for all butterflies, providing blooms until frost. Combined with asters, these plants are ideal nectar sources for fall migrators. Goldenrods, spotted Joe-pye, liatris, zinnias, obedient plant, alliums, butterfly bush, milkweeds, obedient plant and veronicas are also good selections for butterfly gardens. And there are so many more.

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Silver-spotted skipper on bluebeard

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Tiger Swallowtail on obedient plant, a favorite of butterflies, bees and hummingbirds

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Spicebush swallowtail nectaring on a pink Coreopsis. Sassafras nearby is a host for the caterpillars.

Annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs should all be under consideration when deciding what to plant for butterflies. My garden has been redesigned for birds, butterflies, pollinators and, just a little bit, for me. Although, I guess, it really is mostly for me because of the enjoyment I get watching these little visitors getting some use from the plants that were selected with them in mind in the first place. Of course, woodchucks were not in the equation (as squirrels were not either when putting out the BIRD feeder) …

Pamm Cooper                              All photos copyright 2016 by Pamm Cooper