In planning your Butterfly Garden select an area in your yard that is sunny and sheltered from the wind. Butterflies need a warm, protected, sunny location for feeding, mating, and laying eggs. Not only is this good for the butterflies, but the location you choose will also be good for your flowers. When you draw up your garden plan, keep in mind that shrubs go in the back, next the tallest flowers; then medium height and the shortest ones go to the front. This will allow you to view all of the flowers from the front instead of doing a walk around. Also, choose a mixture of perennials and annuals. Annuals will bloom all summer, where as perennials vary in blooming time. The advantage of the perennials they will come back every year to whereas annuals come from seeds.
If you have a limited area to landscape, three plants most commonly recommended for butterfly gardens are pentas, lantana and butterfly bush. In zone 7 pentas should be grown as an annual. Lantana and butterfly bush are excellent perennial shrubs that flower through the spring, summer and fall. Both plants should be cut back in February or March since flowers occur on new growth. To attract the swallowtail butterfly, you can include fennel in your border plants.
To create your garden you must grow lots of nectar plants and when choosing your nectar plants make certain to include different blooming times through-out the season, so butterflies can always find food. Early season blooming plants you might want to consider are: Chives, Dame’s rocket and Forget-me-not. Midseason blooming plants are: Bee Balm, Black-eyed Susan, Butterfly Bush, Butterfly Weed, Cosmos, Marigold and Rosemary. The late season blooming plants: Aster, Sedum, Goldenrod and Joe-Pye Weed. As the butterflies sip the nectar from these plants they will also help pollinate your plants.
Next, provide food plants for caterpillars (larval stage of butterflies) as they require a different menu than an adult butterfly. The adult female butterfly chooses the plants she wants to lay her eggs. Therefore it is very important to provide larval food plants to attract egg-laying females to your garden. Normally you would plant these plants in a different part of your garden, but you can intermix them with your nectar garden. Here are a few larval food plants to choose from: Birch, Blueberry, Dogwood, Marigold, Milkweed, Parsley, and Sweet Fennel.
In order to have a large population of butterflies you will need to provide water. Wet sand or mud makes an excellent watering hole. The saucer designed to fit beneath clay or plastic pots also makes an excellent water source — just add sand to make it shallow. Place a rock or other object in the center of the saucer so the butterfly can rest.
To protect your butterflies do not use pesticides. Butterflies are insects, so when you go to spray to get rid of those pesky insects you are also ridding your garden of butterflies. I prefer to use safe methods, like a mild soapy water spray or just let the insects eat a few leaves.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.