Butterflies are Free, sort of.....

Butterfly gardens are incredibly popular right now. There are dozens of species of butterflies in our area, but perhaps 8 or 10 that are common. Fortunately, butterflies are easy to attract if you plant the right plants to attract them. It is easy to find out which plants by looking on-line at the University of Florida Extension Service website at www.edis.ufl.edu. They have great lists of the right plants for the right butterflies. You need to know a bit about your living jewels before you plant a garden for them.

Butterflies frequently feed on one set of plants ( nectar plants), and lay their eggs on another set of plants ( larval plants). If you are lucky, you may only need a few species to accomplish the task. Some butterflies need several different plants to complete their life cycle of feed / eggs / larvae / butterfly. There are excellent books for this purpose specifically for this area. One of the best combinations of plants is Red Pentas, Orange Milkweed, Red / Yellow Lantana, White or Purple Buddleia, and Wild Lime. Most garden centers and many retail nurseries have a section especially for butterfly plants.

Be aware that some butterfly attracting plants look and behave like weeds, so be careful about where you plant them. It is wise to advise a landscape crew about the new plants, since the crew may "clean" them out of existence. You may opt to use organic fertilizers to feed these plants, since some people feel that chemical fertilizers taint the plant's nectar. Choose a balanced-number fertilizeer, or something like rose fertilizer. Trim off old flower heads as they form to promote new flowers. Plant the new plants in groups of 5 or 6 plants of a species, and in a protected area near trees or hedges so butterflies can escape predators. Most attractor plants need 5 or more hours of sunlight to grow well. It's OK to prune plants once in a while to induce new plant stems; the new leaves are especially tasty to caterpillars.

You can also grow a nice garden in a group of large pots or planters. The butterflies will find your new plants quickly. A little attention and intelligent plant selection will bring living jewels to your yard. Once you attract them, do a bit more research to see if you can plant some plants to attract hummingbirds, too. 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens 

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