WHAT IS IT ABOUT seeing a butterfly that immediately fascinates us and lifts our spirits? Is it their gentle dance in our gardens, their striking array of colors, or do they, even if just for a moment, return us to the wide-eyed curiosity of our youth? So, why not welcome butterflies into your backyard to enjoy season after season, in wide and varied numbers to create a visual treat to your homescape?
Georgia boasts more than 160 species of butterflies, and you can welcome these guests year after year with five simple additions to your yard.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT PLANTS
To draw butterflies to your yard, first you must decide on which kind to invite. One of the most popular butterflies in Georgia, and across the country for that matter, is the Monarch Butterfly, which flock to milkweeds to support their young. In fact, the Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia created the special group Monarchs Across Georgia to study these butterflies and restore their habitats across the state. You can plan to host Monarchs in
March and April as they journey down to Mexico, and again in Fall when they return to wintering grounds. According to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens, the Fab Four are the Whorled Milkweed, Clasping Milkweed, Butterfly Weed and Red-ring Milkweed, available throughout the state. For those in North Georgia, they also recommend the “terrific trio”—the Eastern Swamp Milkweed, Mountain Milkweed and the Four-Leaf Milkweed. Non-native milkweeds that should be avoided are Tropical or Scarlet Milkweed or Common Milkweed, which are not native and can escape your garden to invade habitats where native milkweeds grow.
As Karen Saul Smith from Abbott Creek Nursery in Dawsonville explains, there are two types of plants to consider for your butterfly garden—Attractor Plants such as Daylilies, Dahlias and Zinnias and Nectar Plants such as Milkweed, Parsley and Lavender. Plants that work double duty as both Attractors and Nectar plants include Baptisia, Coneflowers and Lantana.
“Planting both [Attractor and Nectar] plants in close proximity will ensure that butterflies will stay in your garden during the season,” Smith says. “We also encourage planting a variety of plants that bloom at different times so you can enjoy the butterflies for longer in your garden.”
CREATE A WIND SHELTER
High winds and butterflies do not mix, so creating a natural wind buffer in your butterfly sanctuary will greatly benefit your little honored guests. Consider planting bushes around the site, or even a decorative flowered trellis for both your enjoyment.
ADD A BUTTERFLY PUDDLE
Butterflies need water of course, but cannot get their wings drenched, so when looking for water sources, they choose “mud puddling,” where they extract the water and nutrients they need from moist sand or soil. You can easily create these mud puddles by filling a birdbath with sand and water or burying a pot at ground level and fill with sand and water. You can attract butterflies even more by adding a small amount of compost or dissolving a teaspoon of salt in the water. For extra butterfly comfort, add small rocks or twigs for gentle perches while taking a sip and be sure to keep the puddle moist, but not oversaturated.
It’s important to note that the pesticides we use in our yard and plants not only get rid of pests, but creatures we want to support and attract. According to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, “Neo-nics” are a group of widely used insecticides that are absorbed into every part of a plant and kill harmless insects and butterflies. When you purchase your plants, be sure they have not been treated previously with any type of neonicotinoid.
PLANT A SEAT
Now that you have your butterfly haven, be sure to add a comfortable chair, bench, swing or bistro set to enjoy the nature’s playground you have created. Enjoy!
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Interested in more butterfly garden tips? Contact your local nursery for suggestions or visit the State Botanical Garden of Georgia website at botgarden.uga.edu. To learn more about the Monarchs Across Georgia program from the Environmental Education Alliance, visit eealliance.org/ monarchs-across-ga.html.