Creating A Garden For Butterflies

Creating A Garden For Butterflies

Part of Ep. 1803 Sustainable Gardens

Ina Lukas, one of the owners of the Blooming Valley Nursery, shows how to create a habitat for butterflies. Providing food, water and shelter is the key. Plants of the milkweed genus, verbena bonariensis and butterfly bush serve as sources of food, while trees and grasses protect butterflies from extreme heat and sun during "roosting," the rest period that lasts for up to 14 hours each day.

Premiere date: May 26, 2010

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
We are in a lovely garden devoted to butterflies in rural Spring Green. This is Blooming Valley Nursery and I'm with one of the owners, Ina Lukas. Ina, this is just a peaceful, peaceful spot. This whole bed is kind of devoted to butterflies.

Ina Lukas:
Yes, this is what I call the nectar bed. It is all about creating habitat for butterflies and hummingbirds.

Shelley:
It also works to attract me, too, so I'm happy. What do we need? Are there special things that will bring the butterflies here?  

Ina:
Absolutely. When you're creating a butterfly garden you have to think about, you're mimicking nature and creating a condensed habitat for them.  

Shelley:
Okay, so basics like food. 

Ina:
Water, shelter.  

Shelley:
Okay, well, then, let's start with the basics. Food — Plants?

Ina:
Yes, and specific ones. So you have to remember that butterflies come from caterpillars. 

Shelley:
There's so many butterflies and so many food sources let's focus on monarchs today.

Ina:
That's what we have right here.

Shelley:
Perfect, okay. This is a monarch caterpillar right here. As beautiful as they are, they need very specific plants. They need plants in the milkweed genus. So, swamp milkweed butterfly weed, the common milkweed with the big leaves on it. So that's about it for them, that's all they'll eat?  

Ina:
That's all they'll eat, is that genus. That's what you need if you want monarch caterpillars.

Shelley:
So we make sure a couple of those are in our bed. Then they grow up and become beautiful monarch butterflies. Then what do they need?

Ina:
They need adult nectar plants. So one of the most common ones that butterflies love is this one right here, which is butterfly bush.

Shelley:
Which is beautiful in any garden.  

Ina:
A wonderful garden plant. Smells amazing, and butterflies love it.

Shelley:
Now, I love it when it's healthy. It's not completely hardy in Wisconsin.  

Ina:
It is very borderline hardy here. Well-drained soil is a key factor. You sort of treat it as an annual and if it comes back, you jump for joy.

Shelley:
Any other plants you'd put at the top of your list for monarchs? 

Ina:
Verbena bonariensis, that's an annual verbena that re-seeds itself, so you plant it once and then usually it just keeps coming back every year. Butterflies love it.

Shelley:
Again, easy to care for, beautiful.  

Ina:
Very beautiful.

Shelley:
Okay, that takes care of food for monarchs, at least. Shelter, what do butterflies need?

Ina:
Butterflies need to sleep. They have a habit called "roosting." They need to be able to roost at night. They actually start roosting from when the sun goes down till midday the next morning. About 14 hours of every day they're roosting. So plants like this linden tree here, it's a small one but it has big, round leaves on it. And butterflies will actually roost underneath the leaves. So, it will protect them from the rain it'll protect them from extreme heat and sun.

Shelley:
When they're roosting, are they hanging like a bat?

Ina:
Yes, exactly.

Shelley:
Oh, okay! So shelter from rain, protection.

Ina:
And then also plants like grasses, plants that have structure to them. Butterflies need a place to attach their chrysalis to, so they will often attach their chrysalis to grasses or to tree branches. They need some kind of support or structure.

Shelley:
Okay, so grasses in the back. Again, that gives us a beautiful backdrop for the garden, too. Okay, water should be simple.

Ina:
Yes, butterflies need water, they don't need a lot of it. But what they do need is shallow pools of water.

Shelley:
So, not a big birdbath.

Ina:
Right, right. Something that's shallow that has rocks or sand in it.

Shelley:
Why rocks?

Ina:
Because butterflies have a habit called "puddling," where they will just sit in an area of very shallow water. Because butterflies, since they're eating all that sweet nectar, they need the minerals from water. So, shallow water has that mineralized effect, so they will sit on the edge and sip the water.

Shelley:
Okay. So if we've done all that, we've done everything they need, or is there anything else we can do to make our garden extra special for them?

Ina:
There's so much more. Another interesting habit of butterflies is the nectaring. A butterfly actually has its taste receptors on its feet. So what they will do is land on a flower, and their proboscis will unfold. So they taste it with their feet which causes their proboscis to unfold.

Shelley:
So if it tastes good with their feet then they may eat it. 

Ina:
Right, so that being said, you need a variation of flower types in your garden. Some butterflies have long proboscises, so they need more tubular flowers, whereas some butterflies have short proboscises, so they need more daisy-type flowers, where they sit on the petals and eat out of the center.

Shelley:
Okay, you know, sometimes in the morning I'll see butterflies just sitting, not doing anything. Are they waiting for coffee, or what?

Ina:
They're basking, is what they're doing. They're warming up their body temperatures. Butterflies need to raise their body temperature from 85 to 100 degrees before they can fly.

Shelley:
Oh, really?

Ina:
So another thing you need to add to the garden is large rocks, or a heat sink, basically, so that in the morning, the butterflies will sit there with their wings out horizontally warming their bodies up. So a great feature in a butterfly garden is a large rock with a boulder that has indentations, where shallow water will pool so they can heat themselves while drinking shallow water.  

Shelley:
So then it will be a butterfly hangout right there.

Ina:
Exactly, a butterfly party.  

Shelley:
What about, and I don't think we ever repeat this enough what about spraying chemicals or anything like that?

Ina:
Not okay.

Shelley:
All right.

Ina:
Even if you're using organic chemicals —We don't use chemical sprays at our nursery. We've used organic sprays. A few years ago, we stopped using any sprays whatsoever, and what we found was that our butterfly population just went nuts. Because even if you're spraying for bad caterpillars, even with organic sprays you're still killing all the caterpillars.

Shelley:
Sure, how does a spray know the good or the bad caterpillars?

Ina:
Right.

Shelley:
Okay, so really watch with the spraying provide food, shelter, water, and maybe a nice big rock and sit back and enjoy the show.

Ina:
And a large massing of color is very important, too. When you're thinking about mimicking nature, create big swaths of color at least three plants of the same types if not even more.

Shelley:
Then you really have a show for us to look at, too.

Ina:
That's the point, yes.

Shelley:
Great idea, thank you.

Ina:
Thank you, Shelley.

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