Saturday, May 2, 2009

Butterfly Gardening (a quick intro)

Lantana is one of my more favorite sun loving annuals for the garden

I recently got an email from a good friend who is the Executive Director of an organization in Manhattan that I am on the Board of Directors of, asking if I could help her with a new project. I thought I might as well share with you the information I put together for her. It might be a help if you have ever wanted to start a butterfly garden but didn't know where or how to start.

The question was:
We are having a work day at the mid-May. part of this day will be planting - I am going to try to get native plants that attract butterflies. this garden has a group of 15-20 preschool bilingual head start kids that walk to the garden several times a week and we thought they would like these plants and it would be educational. Any suggestions on what I should buy?

To which I answered:
A butterfly garden sounds fabulous. I can definitely suggest a number of plants. One catch is that most butterfly plants want full sun or at least not too much shade. I think I saw that garden and remember it being pretty bright, the stretch you were talking about planting, so I hope the site doesn't give you grief. Another important thing to know is that there are two kinds of butterfly plants, those that the larvae (caterpillars) feed on, and those that the adult butterflies are attracted to. In an ideal world you would have both, so that might be something to shoot for in the long run. Usually the plants that the larvae feed on are more straight-forward trees and shrubs so perhaps some of them are already planted in the space or nearby. I found a website that seemed pretty great in terms of listing the two types of plants and the butterflies attract. You might want to print up a copy or two if some of the adults really want to get into it. The link is:

As far as what you should plant, here are some suggestions that I know are pretty safe. The list is a mix of some natives but also some non-natives. In the interest of time and budget I don't think you should limit yourself to solely natives at this point, although that too could be a good ideal to strive for over time. Just wanted to clarify in case anyone chimes in that some of the things aren't native:

tall plants for the back:
butterfly bush (Buddleia) - you know, shrubby, but can be pruned yearly to control size, late summer flower, purple often
Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) - 6' or so if happy, purple clusters atop in summer, likes to be well watered
perennial hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) - the big hibiscus flower you see late summer, can get 4'-6' depending on sun and water, red, bright colors
ironweed (Vernonia) - also tall and thin like Joe Pye and hibiscus, tall cluster of small purple flowers, great in fall

medium plants (many of which can tolerate dry conditions once established so that helps):
butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) - a major attractor with orange flower clusters, full sun,
goldenrod (Solidago) - late summer yellow bloomers are reliable attractors, but not sure how easy to find for sale this time of year
dogbane (Apocynum) - also more of a meadow plant but perfect if you can find it, smaller white flower clusters in summer
milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) - probably too hard to find at a regula garden center/retailer
coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) - purple
black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) - yellow
bee balm (Monarda didyma) - red, white, pinkish, depending

low plants and/or annuals:

I hope that gives you a decent shopping list to work from. If you want even more suggestions I found another link that seemed pretty good, and that is:

Good luck and let me know how it goes. -Alex

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