With a little effort, you can attract butterflies, too.

By GINNY GRUPE MASTER GARDENERMy Nassau Sun

When I drive around Nassau County, I see numerous natural areas that some time ago were major habitats for wildlife. These habitats are being lost to urban development and sprawl.

This loss of natural habitat places wildlife in a battle for survival.

We can help wildlife in this battle by providing an environment in our landscapes which support wildlife and give them a safe place to live, eat and grow. One easy way of doing this is by planting a butterfly garden.

In order to turn your garden into a butterfly habitat, you'll need to provide what butterflies need for each stage of their life - egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and adult.

Blanket Flower or Gaillardia

- Choose host plants - These will provide the female butterfly with places to lay her eggs and provide food for the young (caterpillars). Caterpillars are specific about the type of plants they eat.

For instance, Monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed. Black Swallowtails eat plants from the carrot family, such as dill, parsley and fennel. Be aware that if you want butterflies in your yard, you will have to allow their caterpillars to munch on plants. This means plants will have chewed edges or looked ragged from time to time.

- Plant nectar-rich flowers - Butterflies get their energy by sipping nectar from flowers. Most butterfly nectar plants prefer a sunny location. Butterflies also are attracted to color.

Reds, pinks and purples are the most attractive nectar source colors.

Passion Vine

Masses of blooms or plants located close to caterpillar host plants are more attractive to butterflies than widely spaced plants.

I have found pentas, milkweed, lantana and salvia to be good nectar plants in my garden. These plants are generally easy to care for and provide beautiful color to the landscape.

Milkweed

- Avoid using pesticides - All life stages of the butterfly are extremely sensitive to the use of pesticides.

- Provide a basking area - Butterflies are cold-blooded and need sunshine to boost their body temperature. Stepping stones, rocks or gravel can provide areas for butterflies to bask.

- Provide shelter - Butterflies need to get away from wind, rain and predators or enemies. Grow a variety of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees at different heights to provide a hiding place for butterflies.

- Provide an area of wet sand - Most butterfly species need mineral salts, water and amino acids which they can get from wet sand.

We have created a butterfly-friendly environment in the Nassau County Demonstration Garden at the James S. Page Governmental Complex in Yulee. Also, you can visit the Extension Web site to learn more about butterfly gardening at nassau.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/landmatters/butterfly.html.

For more information on this topic, I suggest reading Gardening for Florida Butterflies by Pamela F. Traas, Florida Butterfly Gardening by Marc C. Minno and Maria Minno, or Florida Butterfly Caterpillars and their Host Plants by Marc C. Minno, Jerry F. Butler and Donald W. Hall.


Master Gardeners

Master Gardener volunteers are trained by County Horticultural Extension agents and are required to serve 75 volunteer hours in the first year of their accreditation and 50 volunteer hours annually in all subsequent years, to maintain their certification.

Nassau County Master Gardeners serve under the direction of Rebecca L. Jordi, UF/IFAS Nassau County Horticultural Extension Agent. For information on the Master Gardener program and application requirements, contact Jordi at 548-1116 or rljordi@ufl.edu.

 

Ginny Grupe lives on Amelia Island and is an active Master Gardener volunteer.