Living Columns & Blogs

Bring your garden to life with beautiful butterflies

Spring in full glory means more than just flowers in bloom. There is wildlife too, and the nicest form of that in a home landscape is an array of butterflies. Making your garden hospitable to them is a simple art anyone can practice.

It just means choosing the right plants. Now, as flowerbeds are being planted, is a good time to think about adding the right plants to attract these beautiful creatures.

Many kinds of bright annuals and perennials containing the nectar butterflies love are in garden centers. They are ready to plant, and some are already blooming. Others, such as zinnias, are easily and rapidly grown from seeds. And there are always large shrubs such as the aptly titled butterfly bush.

Select the plants that love summer sunshine, because butterflies like the warmth sun brings while they sip nectar from the blooms. Aim for a spot that is sunny from about mid-morning to mid-afternoon.

If you don’t have that, go with what you’ve got.

Besides the warmth of sunshine, butterflies require a place to land. They need blooms shaped to allow them to perch while they enjoy the nectar. You can accomplish this fairly simply by choosing flowers that grow in clusters, such as butterfly bush, verbena, milkweed (favored by the fabulous monarch butterfly), lantana, black-eyed susans and joe-pye weed. Another shape that helps reach this goal is a flat-topped bloom such as aster, zinnia and purple coneflower.

Color, too, is important, as butterflies seem to go for red, yellow, orange, pink and purple, none of them hard to find and grow. A mix of those colors really says summer, and do not worry about clashing colors or fuss about blending. A merry mix looks beautiful.

If I had to start with just one or two, I’d go with tall zinnias grown from seeds and young plants of lantana, all chosen in bright colors. They bloom over a long season and like heat.

In addition to flowering annuals and perennials, two kinds of well-known herbs serve the butterfly population. These are parsley and dill, both host plants for the caterpillar phase of the black swallowtail, a very beautiful butterfly. People who grow parsley are sometimes alarmed to see a plant covered by caterpillars. These are most likely to be swallowtails, which some of us consider more desirable and valuable than the parsley itself. So let them be and put away the insecticides.

Two accessories will also help the butterfly population flourish. The first is a flattish rock set in the sun near the nectar plants where the insects can land to rest and warm up their wings before flight. The second is a small, shallow pan containing wet, coarse sand where the butterflies can drink water and get minerals.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. It has been so cold and wet I am late with tomato planting. People keep saying I should plant them deep. Why and how?

A. Tomato plants are one of the rare things that you should plant deeper than you think. That is because the plants will send out roots along the stem when the plant is set in the ground to the lowest leaves. This tends to make stronger plants. How deep that is depends on the size of the plant.

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