Wild Things…
Butterfly Gardening Pt. 2
By Karen Vizzi
     Last week, I mentioned the four elements required to create a successful wildlife habitat in your own backyard: food, water, shelter (from predators) and places to raise young.
     We also talked about how these elements relate to gardening specifically for butterflies. Butterflies find food in the nectar of certain flower types, and they also appreciate a place to bask and water for “puddling”. This week, we’ll talk about shelter and breeding.
     Because butterflies are solar-powered, they tend to spend their time in areas of full sun. And it just so happens that most of the flowers that are prime nectar sources require full sun to flourish. The one weather factor that butters do not tolerate well is wind. So the element of shelter in a butterfly garden is providing wind protection, as opposed to shelter from predators. A successful butterfly garden must contain windbreaks, such as a backdrop of tightly planted shrubs, fencing or even the walls of the house or garage…providing that windbreak does not obstruct the full sun. (My windbreak is mostly chain link fencing that is thickly planted with vines.) To be more specific, the windbreak should be established in the north to northeast corner of the planted area, so that the south to southwest area (the sunniest part) holds the plants. 
     Did you ever wonder where butterflies go at night? In many cases, they will roost under the protection of dense foliage or fallen trees and branches. Another really neat way to provide this type of shelter is to create a log pile. This can simply be an arrangement of thick branches in a crisscross pattern (allowing spaces for butters to crawl between) in a windless area of the garden. You could go one step further and cover the pile with a tarp or canvas to provide protection from rain as well.
     Just be sure to secure it well. One of the latest garden novelties is a cute little structure called a butterfly house. While I agree that they add charm to the garden, do not expect them to actually be occupied by any butterflies. In most cases, wasps and bees will move in quickly, and butterflies will avoid them like the plague.
     Finally, because these insects are so elusive, you will increase your chances of having them stick around by providing a home…not just a fast food rest stop. Larval or host plants provide the food necessary for caterpillars to complete their stage of development, and female butterflies are always searching for a place to lay their eggs. For example, Eastern Black Swallowtails will only lay their eggs on plants in the carrot family, such as parsley, dill, fennel and Queen Anne’s lace. Monarchs will only lay their eggs on plants in the milkweed family and Red Admirals prefer nettles. The list can be quite extensive, so I recommend a good field guide like Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies. If you are worried about losing all your culinary herbs to hungry caterpillars, just plant a few extra plants! Caterpillars are extremely vulnerable to predators, and very few of them survive in the wild to do much damage. I grow a very small patch of parsley, which feeds both my swallowtail pillars and me very nicely!
     There are few critters in the wild garden…or the world, for that matter…that are as amazing as butterflies. I hope you’ll give this a try! As the season picks progresses, we will also talk about how to hand-raise butterflies, from the egg stage all the way to releasing the adults. So stay tuned!
    Bird Brainers: Goldfinches have already begun their spring molt. The little brown sprites at my feeders this winter are looking decidedly yellow these days!
    Butterfly Bullets: Butterflies go through 4 stages in their lifetime: egg, larval, chrysalis and adult. The whole process is called a complete metamorphosis.
    Plant Pointers: The best time to prune roses is when the forsythia is in bloom.

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