Friday, July 17, 2009

Butterflies benefit gardens and gardeners

By David Burton
University Extension

Nearly 200 species of butterflies call Missouri home, including the monarch, painted lady and great spangled fritillary. According to Patrick Byers, horticulture specialist, University of Missouri Extension, this large variety makes butterfly gardening both easy and fun.
"The first step to enticing butterflies into your garden is to locate it in full sun. Butterflies are sun lovers because they need the sun to warm their flight muscles. Another reason to site your butterfly garden in full sun is that many nectar-producing plants favor full sun," said Byers.
Byers recommend placing flat rocks in sunny spots to give butterflies something to warm up on. It is also important to provide shelter from the wind and colorful plants, especially those that are yellow, red, orange, purple and dark pink.
"Butterflies prefer flowers that provide a fresh, constant source of nectar, like milkweeds and many herbs. In general, butterflies are not attracted to plants that have fancy double flowers because these frequently have been bred for show at the expense of nectar," said Byers.
Some of the nectar plants that are best at attracting butterflies are blazing stars, asters, coneflowers, milkweeds, coreopsis, butterfly bush, single-flowered zinnias and lantana.
Other good choices for a butterfly garden include marigolds, bee balm, sunflowers, phlox, cosmos, lilac, rose verbena, New Jersey tea and heliotrope. Numerous wildflowers like goldenrods and ironweed may not be tidy enough for a formal garden but they could be included in a naturalized area or at the back of a garden bed.
"An important consideration in selecting plants is to pick species for a succession of blooming times in order to have nectar throughout the season. Nectar sources both early and late in the season are valuable because food can be in short supply at these times," said Byers.
Many of these food plants are common trees but they also include violets, dill, parsley, milkweeds, thistles, pawpaw and spicebush.
One way to extend the blooming period is to prune plants back early in the season to delay blooming and prolong the flowering period.
For more information, contact the nearest University of Missouri Extension Center or the Greene County Master Gardener Hotline at (417) 862-9284.

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