Nancy Brachey

Welcome butterflies to your landscape

A butterfly rested on a lantana bloom outside the Carolina Panthers practice fields in Charlotte last September.
A butterfly rested on a lantana bloom outside the Carolina Panthers practice fields in Charlotte last September. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Just as we go full scale into planting flower beds, pause and consider the butterflies.

Nothing makes a garden more complete than lovely butterflies darting here and there among colorful blooms. I saw the first one last weekend and it made my heart sing.

There is no big secret to attracting butterflies to a Piedmont landscape. All it takes is growing plants that appeal to them, chiefly because of the nectar the flowers produce.

It is not difficult to make butterflies a priority when you select annuals and perennials for your spring and summer gardens. But it does take a place in the sun because butterflies like the warmth of sunshine.

Some of the best choices, such as zinnias, are quite easy to grow from seeds; others such as lantana are sold widely as young plants ready to grow rapidly as days get warmer. Zinnias, coneflowers, coreopsis and black-eyed Susans are perfect for a butterfly garden because they grow vibrantly in the sunshine.

Their round, flattish shape allows butterflies to perch momentarily and get nectar in the center. And you may also see butterflies alight on flowers growing in roundish clusters such as verbenas, milkweed, joe-pye weed, lantana and phlox.

And don’t forget parsley for the caterpillars of the eastern swallowtail butterflies, a very beautiful thing that is not hard to attract in this region. More than once, a gardener has called me to find out what this beastly thing was that had devoured her parsley once destined for the kitchen. It was the swallowtail butterfly in the caterpillar stage. I always plant parsley for them. Dill also serves this purpose.

A couple of other things that will help butterflies love your garden are a basking stone in the sun and a little puddle of coarse sand, from which they can gain minerals.

The basking stone could simply be a small, flat rock that gets direct sunshine early in the day. It’s a place for them to warm up and prepare for their day. Another nice thing to do for them is to put a shallow pan of wet, coarse sand near the nectar plants. They will drink water and gain minerals.

These flowers are not prone to insect infestations. That’s good because when you want to attract and nurture butterflies, put away your insecticides.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. I have two 4-year-old hydrangeas opposite each other at the entry to my home. The first two years they were lovely and luscious. Last year, I completely cut them back in late fall, but they never bloomed at all last spring. The leaves, however, were humongous – just embarrassingly huge, but no blooms.

A. It was the fall pruning that kept your hydrangeas from blooming last spring. You cut off the wood that would have produced the flowers. It sounds like they made nice looking plants, and I think you will have a great flower show in late spring and early summer this year.

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