It’s November already and hard to believe that I still have a few butterflies hanging around what’s left of my flowers. When I give my programs on butterfly gardening, I tell people to make sure something is blooming from the time the first butterflies appear in spring until the first hard freeze so this year I practiced what I preach—and it worked! Today I spotted Cloudless Sulphurs, Common Buckeyes, and a couple dozen skippers skipping about the faded asters along the driveway flower bed and on clover in the lawn. Last week, before our first hard freeze of the season, I watched Cloudless Sulphurs, Common Buckeyes, assorted skippers, Painted Ladies, Checkered Skippers, Silver- Spotted Skippers, and Cabbage Whites nectaring on asters, catmints, lantanas, and salvias.
And as I say goodbye to my butterfly friends for this season, I’m already planning what to plant for them next spring. My earliest perennials, such as Creeping Phlox Phlox subulata, Walker’s Low Catmint Nepeta racemosa and Pink Cranesbill Geranium sanguineum, usually bloom just in time for the first hatches of Black Swallowtail and Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies that have overwintered as chrysalises. The nice thing about early perennials is that they’ll bloom on their own before I can plant annuals in my Zone 5 garden.
To understand what flowers work best for butterfly gardens, think about how a butterfly feeds. First and foremost, the flower must contain nectar. Since a butterfly inserts its proboscis into the tubes of flowers to gather nectar, it stands to reason that the flowers should have “tubes” that hold this nectar. Most butterflies perch on flowers that have clusters of tubular-shaped nectar-rich flowers to feed—so that’s what kind of flowers you’ll want to plant.
My 2010 butterfly garden was probably my most successful ever and I’ve been doing this for nearly 20 years. Each year I make changes and try to improve on what worked or didn’t work the previous year. This summer our butterflies preferred these nectar flowers: (alphabetical order by scientific name)
Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa
Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnata
Asters: New England ‘Alma Potschke’ and Tatarian
Blackberry Lily Belamcanda chinensis
Butterfly Bushes Buddleia davidii
Thread-leaf Coreopsis ‘Golden Showers’ Coreopsis verticillata
Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea
Blanket Flower Gaillardia pulchella
Red Spread Lantana Lantana camara
New Gold Lantana Lantana camara
Rose Campion Lynchis coronaria
Raspberry Wine Bee Balm Monarda didyma
Black-eyed Susan ‘Indian Summer’ Rudbeckia hirta
Pineapple Sage Salvia elegans
Mexican Bush Sage Salvia leucantha
Mexican Sunflower Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’
Brazilian Verbena Verbena bonariensis
Homestead Purple Verbena Verbena canadensis
Lanai Deep Pink & Lanai Bright Pink Verbenas
Profusion Yellow, Cherry, and Fire Zinnias
To see photos of some of our butterflies in our gardens, go to our Gallery and search for Butterflies. We also have a 2011 Butterflies Calendar available and all photos were taken by Richard Day in our gardens here at the Daybreak Sanctuary.
Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly Nectaring on Pineapple Sage