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Butterflies and Tips for a Butterfly Garden

Butterflies are probably everyone’s favorite garden creature. They are beautiful, mysterious, and romantic. It’s a goal of many gardeners to attract these lovely butterflies into the garden.

Butterflies need just 3 things: Water, a nectar source, and host plants on which to lay their eggs.

Water
All living creatures need water. The preferred source of water for butterflies is a mud puddle. This can be easily created by filling a large clay saucer with clean sand. Place this in a sunny spot in your butterfly garden and keep it moist at all times.

Butterfly on Buttonbush

Food Source - Nectar for Adult Butterflies
Nectar plants are the food source for adult butterflies. You’ll need Butterfly Bush of course, which is now available in many colors. Lantana can’t be beat for attracting butterflies. Clethra is a large-growing shrub that produces sweetly scented flower spikes up to 6 inches long in either pink or white and attracts butterflies by the hundreds. You'll enjoy the fragrance as well, which reminds me of fresh honey. Clethra, also known as Summersweet and Sweet Pepper Bush requires moist soil and full to partial sun. Joe Pye Weed comes in many forms. Helianthus is another late-blooming flower that butterflies love—it has large yellow sunflower-type blooms on tall stems. Of course all the beneficial insects, including butterflies, love Blackeyed Susan, Gaillardia (Blanketflower). In September, butterflies are attracted to Stonecrop (Sedums like Autumn Joy, Matrona, and Vera Jamison.) Dianthus flowers just about all summer, and butterflies are particularly attracted to this plant. You can fill in between bloom times of the perennials with annuals like cosmos, marigolds, and zinnias. 

Fennel is a Host Plant for Butterflies
Food Source for offspring (a place to lay eggs) - Host Plants 
Host plants are those on which butterflies lay their eggs. Yes, the larva will eat the plants, but without a place for the babies to grow into the beautiful adult butterfly, you can’t have the butterflies! So plant extra parsley, dill, fennel, and milkweed, so you can have plenty to share with the butterflies. An added bonus is that these plants also attract many other beneficial insects!
 
I did say that butterflies need just 3 things, however there is a 4th thing that is the most important of all: Never use pesticides in your garden. Using pesticides would kill the butterflies you are trying to attract. Use insecticidal soap instead.

Lightning Bugs, Fireflies: Beneficial Insects for the Garden

We call them lightning bugs, but in some parts of the country they’re known as fireflies. Whatever you call them, we all enjoy seeing them flitting around and lighting up on summer nights. 

Photinus pyralis image from focusingonwildlife.com
Many of us enjoyed catching them and placing them in a lidded jar on our nightstand when we went to bed at night, but did you know that lightning bugs are beneficial insects? 

Lightning bugs are actually beetles that have a soft outer shell instead of a hard one. Lightning bugs lay their eggs in soft mud. Maybe that’s why we have so many this year—if you’ve been out to our place, you’ve seen our mud! 

It’s the larvae that are so helpful to gardeners—eating pests like snails, slugs, cutworms, and other larval pests. The larvae are luminous as well, lighting up all the time, but turning off their light when disturbed. For this reason they’re called Glow-worms. 

Researchers are also studying lightning bugs because they contain two rare chemicals that are used to fight cancer, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, and heart disease. So next time you’re sitting outside enjoying a warm summer evening, think about the wonderful little lightning bugs and all the other benefits God is providing for us in nature!

Fragrant Swamp Azalea: Rhododendron viscosum


If you like fragrant plants, you'll want Rhododendron Viscosum in your garden! Most often referred to as Swamp Azalea, Rhododendron Viscosum is a native azalea found in the Eastern United States. Pure white blooms in early summer have a pleasing spicy scent reminiscent of cloves. 
Rhododendron viscosum in June

Swamp Azalea, as the name implies, is one of the few azaleas that can tolerate periodically wet soil. This plant can grow in regular garden soil, but it does not want to miss out on water. If you can water regularly when rainfall is absent, Swamp Azalea will be easy for you to grow in your garden. Grows into a very tall shrub when planted near a pond or stream. Swamp Azalea is the perfect native rhododendron for a rain garden.

Rhododendron Viscosum can be grown almost anywhere in the United States since it grows well in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9. 

Swamp Azalea can be grown in full sun if regular water is available. Otherwise, filtered sun/shade is best.