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Monday, January 12, 2009

Plant a Butterfly Garden

In yesterday's post I talked about planning your summer garden and as long as we're on that topic, here's another idea: plant a butterfly garden! Butterflies are a great thing to photograph and drawing them to your garden is simple--just plant some of their favorite flowers.

I've had a tremendous success with tithonia (Tithonia roundiflora, or Mexican sunflower, shown here with a Monarch butterfly), a very easy-to-grow annual that grows about 5-6 ft tall and is bright orange. Beautiful! (By the way, there is a relative of tithonia called Bolivian sunflower that reaches up to 16 ft (5 m) tall and is often more than 12 ft (3.6 m) across, that I've never grown but I've read it can be invasive in southern climates, so read more about it before you plant it.) I have also had great luck with buddleia, aka butterfly bush, that is a perennial shrub and attracts butterflies in droves. Others I've had luck with include milkweed, zinnia and (especially in hanging pots) impatients.

There are actually dozens, if not hundreds, of flowers that will attract butterflies and you'll find lots of info on the web. The National Wildlife Federation site has a good basic butterfly primer that talks about both plants and the butterfly's life cycle. And a site called the Milkweed Cafe has a great article about butterfly gardening.

Whatever you plant, remember that insecticides kill both catepillars and butterflies, so don't use them anywhere near your butterfly garden or you'll be killing instead of feeding them! The truth is that I've been gardening since I was a kid and have never used insecticides and never had a problem that I couldn't cure naturally. You don't need insecticides in your garden, you need more insects!

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