Submitted by Leta Caplinger
One thing about butterfly gardening is that it can be very simple. If you are gardening to create habitat as we do here at the learning Fields then you are creating a four season garden to attract adult butterflies, feed caterpillars, shelter in the winter and a summer playground. The first rule for Butterfly gardening is an established garden in the fall is don't clean up the garden plants. Leave the stalks, mulch, leaves etc until spring. Some butterflies overwinter as adults in our area. They insulate themselves from the cold in the mulch and then fly when it is warm enough. You may be surprised to see a Goatweed Leafwing Butterfly or a Wood Nymph on a warm sunny winter day. Give them a safe place to stay warm. Some overwinter as pupae and some even as eggs. You don't want to throw them away or into the fire for cleanup. Enjoy those beautiful fall days wandering through your garden dreaming about next year.
For the beginning Butterfly Habitat Gardener, Fall and Winter is the time to plan. For a Butterfly Habitat Garden you will need some idea of what butterflies you want to attract and if you want to feed caterpillars or not. This decision will guide your choices about how large your garden may be and what plants you will need for each Butterfly Family. Providing nectar for adult butterflies is a great place to start. You will need a spot in full sun or with some late afternoon shade. These plants are good nectar plants for our area:
Zinnias and Cosmos, these are annual plants that may reseed. They are easy to grow from seed or nursery starts and add a lot of color to the Garden. They also do well in our hot summers.
Azaleas, Perennial Lantana and Buddleia are perennial shurbs. These are going to take up some room so you will need to plan for mature size plants. They provide color, lots of nectar and interest to the garden.
Azaleas will need afternoon shade in our area. The Eastern Black Swallowtails really seem to enjoy the old single blossoms of Azalea in early spring.
Lantana and Buddleia (aka Butterfly Bush) can be deadheaded throughout the summer to encourage all season bloom.
Milkweed is a long lived herbaceous perennial, that is a nectar favorite of all butterflies. Milkweed is available in many colors, bloom time, both native and domesticated. Plant it in its permanent spot but don't try to move it. Milkweed has a deep tap root and does not transplant well. Milkweed requires poor soil with good drainage and full sun It will return year after year once the weather has warmed and become a butterfly magnet for your garden.