Attracting butterflies

A painted butterfly rests on a flower in Virginia City, Nev., on Thursday, June 16, 2005. AP Photo Brad Horn/Nevada Appeal

A painted butterfly rests on a flower in Virginia City, Nev., on Thursday, June 16, 2005. AP Photo Brad Horn/Nevada Appeal

If ever there was a time to get close to butterflies, this is it.

Colorful butterflies are just what you need in your patio jungle. And there are lots of them flittering about right now in Carson City. The small orange-red with black and white ones are painted ladies. Also on the wing are swallowtails and cabbage moths.

To lure them to your home, you need to have a garden that offers butterflies a free lunch (for them, there is such a thing as a free lunch).

Butterflies need a spot for eggs; food plants for the larva (caterpillar) to chow down; a place to form a chrysalis and sweet nectar for the adults.

Butterflies usually live about a month - some only a few days, others up to six months.

Adults out for nectar go for red, yellow, orange, pink or purple blossoms that are flat-topped or clustered and have short flower tubes which allow the butterflies to reach the nectar with their proboscises (OK, noses). Nectar-producing plants should be grown in open, sunny areas, as adults rarely feed on plants in the shade.

Many caterpillars are gourmet eaters and happy with just a few plants. The red-spotted purple, however, will feed on several deciduous trees.

To attract butterflies, you might want to have these plants on hand: lilac, red clover, phlox, yarrow, zinnia, thyme, hyssop common day lily or lavender.

Some other winners include thistles, goldenrods, asters and meadowsweet. Herbs also are big with butterflies.

A great local favorite is the butterfly bush. This is a hearty shrub perennial that can be cut almost to the ground and come back fully in the late spring. If offers lovely blossoms, just the thing for butterflies to suck up to. (Professional gardeners look down on the butterfly bush as being a bit sloppy, without a tightly defined structure. Shows how much they know.)

Although plant selection and placement are effective methods to lure butterflies, site selection for a butterfly garden is also important. They like sunny sites and areas free of high winds. Warm, sheltered sites are most needed in the spring and fall. Rocks or bricks offer pupation sites.

Butterflies require different food plants for their larval stages and nectar plants for the adults. Some larvae feed on specific host plants, while others will feed on a variety of plants. If possible, include both larval host plants and adult nectar plants in your butterfly garden.

If you want to attract many different species and you live in an urban or suburban area where there are few pasture or woodlands, you will need to add plants that are a good source of food for caterpillars as well.

Include an assortment of plants for season-long bloom. The time of flowering, duration of bloom, flower color and plant size are all important considerations when selecting plants.

It's tough to have a successful butterfly garden near sites where insecticides are used. Pesticides, specifically insecticides, can kill butterflies as well as a host of other useful insects.

Plants that attract butterflies may also attract other forms of wildlife, including bees and wasps. Most bees and wasps, busy with their pollen- and nectar-collecting tasks, are not likely to sting if left undisturbed. However, if you are allergic to bee and wasp stings, be careful.

n Contact Sam Bauman at or 881-1236.


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