Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gossamer Wings

The Troy-Bilt company invited me to write an article on gardening with butterflies for their readers. I wanted to share it with you, too. 

Seven years ago, I did my flower shopping with a butterfly. It was more of a mesmerizing encounter than a planned outing.

While visiting a local nursery, a butterfly landed on one of the flowering perennials I'd intended to buy. That particular flower caught her eye, though most of my other choices were a big thumbs down. Off she went to inspect the rest of the nursery's inventory and I was right behind her!

Wherever she'd linger, I'd grab a pot of those flowering perennials. That butterfly happily blew my gardening budget, though I consider it one of the sweetest investments I've ever made.

Admirals, Emperors, Skippers and Snouts
These days, my gardens are a flutter of activity because ~ in addition to flowers ~ I plant a few veggies which encourage them to stay. Nectar-rich blossoms attract butterflies to your garden, though chances are, they were born nearby. Try offering plants that meet a butterfly's needs through all four life stages - egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and adult.

Mother Swallowtails (very popular in my area) are particularly fond of parsley, carrots, and parsnips. If she spots these goodies, you'll make a new friend fast. She'll lay her eggs in the leaves so baby caterpillars are well-fed, once they enter the world.

Monarchs, of course, are the most beloved of butterflies because of their epic journey from Mexico to Canada and back again.

Their survival technique of feeding strictly on Milkweed is very clever, indeed. Milkweed contains a poisonous substance palatable to butterflies, making them distasteful to birds and other predators. The Monarch's distinctive markings give predators fair warning that they won't make a very tasty meal.

Common Milkweed

Getting Started
Many places have identified a "state butterfly," one that already enjoys hanging out in your geographical area. This is a great place to begin. Once you discover the butterflies that frequent your backyard, simply plant a section in the garden to meet their needs. Visit The Butterfly Site to learn more about the many butterflies who will happily call your garden home.

To start a Monarch Butterfly Way Station consider planting these varieties of Milkweed (much loved by other butterflies, too!)

Showy Milkweed

Showy Milkweed – (A. speciosa) is a less invasive, western native. Grows to 4 feet with light pink flowers. Tolerates dry soil.

Butterfly Milkweed

Butterfly Milkweed – (A. tuberosa) is an eastern and southwestern native. Grows to 3 feet with showy orange, red, or yellow flowers. Prefers dry soil.

Common Milkweed

Common Milkweed – (A. syriaca) - grows 5 feet tall, with fragrant lavender flowers. Spreads rapidly by rhizomes and will happily take over in the garden if you allow it... [Somewhat invasive.]

* The typical life span for a Monarch adult is 3-5 weeks. A migrating Monarch, from the last generation in summer, can live to the ripe old age of 8 months.


Toni said...

Shoot... and I'm always ripping milk weed up!

Nice article... beautiful pictures as always! Thanks for sharing!

Amy said...

Kate, What a treat to read this great article, plus your images are stunning. I've never seen milkweed like that - one of the pluses of "high altitude gardening," yes?

joey said...

A great post ... I'm sure they will be pleased, Kate. Your roses in previous post are a delight! Happy July gardening :)

Snowcatcher said...

Okay, now I'm gonna be adding milkweed to my garden!!! And good to know about the spices, too. I'll just have to plant some outside. Don't think what I have growing in the kitchen will be attracting anything...

Noelle Johnson said...

Oh, I love this post! I love the imagery of you following the butterfly through the nursery. I did not know that including vegetables is also important in attracting butterflies and caterpillars to the garden. Your pictures are just gorgeous!

Monica the Garden Faerie said...

I love butterflies! I have three kinds of Asclepias and parsley--need to add some dill which some sort or other like. Check out my photo of a monarch caterpillar nomming on milkweed!

Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog said...

I love butterflies and have planted many nectar rich plants, which they seem to appreciate. I've had a hard time attracting them to my parsley, dill and other larval plants though. Maybe they're just not in my area at the right time, I don't know. I love your milkweed varieties!

Victoria said...

Yay gorgeous article rock! Fabulous..i LOOOve butterfly..! And such beautiful photos!

Chloe m said...

We usually don't have Monarchs up here but this year I saw my first one.
Thanks for all the info!

Kate/High Altitude Gardening said...

Hi, All!
Oh, thanks! I love butterflies, too. It just makes my day when I see them flitting about the flowers.

Here's to a fun holiday weekend! Have a happy 4th of July!!! :)

Cynthia Oakes said...

Kate--you rock my world. What lovely photographs and, really, the most amazing (and rewarding) way to plant a garden. Who knew? Thanks!

Kate/High Altitude Gardening said...

Oh, Cynthia, you are too kind. Thanks so much. You made my day. Now where are you? Here or back east? I hope you're here as we're having some marvy July 4th weather. :)

Rose said...

What a novel way to discover what plants the butterflies prefer! I've chosen many plants that butterflies--and hummingbirds--enjoy in order to attract them to my garden. Purple coneflowers are the popular dinner treat for them right now. This year has been a banner year for butterflies here, much to the delight of my grandkids.

The only plant I stay away from is the common milkweed--we have plenty on the roadsides and in the fields, and I know my husband would throw a fit if he saw me purposely planting one:)

CanadianGardenJoy said...

Kate every time I come here you have a new blog template !
I love this post girl : ) .. remember I said we had about 7 butterflies in the making ? .. all except one crawled off my dill and most likely fell between the timber of the deck and god knows what happened to them .. we so hoped to watch the whole cocoon process .. next year I am going to lock them in with pantyhose ! they will have lots to eat but they aren't leaving home until I say so ! LOL
PS on the other hand we keep telling number one son "any time now you can fly the nest ??" !!

Kate/High Altitude Gardening said...

Joy, you're so funny... :D

I know... I know... I'm too indecisive. I think I've changed my blogger template 6 times this year. I still don't like it all that much so I guess I'll keep changing it until I get it right! :)))

Kate/High Altitude Gardening said...

Hi, Rose;
Probably a wise move not to plant the common milkweed. It's terribly invasive if you have good soil. (Since I have terrible soil plus I never water it the poor plants are barely clinging to life. :)

Melanie J Watts said...

I didn't know very much about Monarch butterflies until I read your wonderful post Kate. I've never seen it growing up here in fact I don't think it is hardy.

Wendy said...

great info and pretty milkweed - especially from up close.

Kate/High Altitude Gardening said...

Thx, Melanie :)
Hmmm... I think some milkweed is hardy to zone 3. They're a tad difficult to sprout, though, because the seeds need cold stratification.

jan said...

We used to live on the migration route and it was always very thrilling to see dozens or hundred of Monarchs in a day! They really are majestic creatures!

Priscilla @ Homegrown Delight said...

Beautiful butterfly photographs! They're certainly coming around in my garden more often. I just love nature. Happy 4th of July, have a great weekend!

Killara girl said...

great article....i'm seeing photos everywhere of this milkweed, but haven't seen any around here myself....i know the flower stores sell mixes of flowers butterflies are attracted to...i think i'll go that route for the beginning...still hoping on a backyard sometime this summer!

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