NEIGHBORHOOD GARDEN FOR MARCH 28, 2015 *************************************************************




          March is not too early!!! In an early spring Butterflies will also be early. They are cold blooded which means they are the same temperature as their surroundings.  They cannot fly in a cold morning so spread their wings in a warm spot.  Therefore, you can help by having a rock or block in a sunny area.  If it’s raining they will be under a leaf to keep dry so plan your planting to have leaves large enough to hide under by the time they hatch.  Virginia Blue Bells are up early and on them you will find the little Skippers or Sulphurs.  Swallow Tails love big Peony leaves.  Each spring I notice Lincoln is full of Dandelions. Red Admirals, Sulphurs, and Blues love them.

          When a Butterfly hatches it is hungry! It has not had a thing to eat since last fall when it was a Caterpillar. Those same Peonies have nectar they can stretch that long tongue into to get nectar.  You will see those little yellow Sulphurs out very early on Peonies.  When we were kids in Colorado we would hunt for the Indian Paint Brush colonies and pull the little tubes out to lick the drops of liquid sugar.

          Double flowers make it harder for their tongues to get in.  Chives and the Alliums are liked by Swallow Tails, Common Hairstreaks, and Admirals. Clover will have Sulphurs, Blues, and Buckeyes as well.  I plant Clover in my back lawn as those little Blues (1 inch) are so much fun to watch. You will need to plan the spring and summer of the year before to have many of the early ones.

          Butterflies need water so you can fill a shallow bowl with gravel and small rocks for landings and keep it wet with sugar water. If you have visited the Butterfly pavilion at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo you have noticed they spray fingers with the athletic water drinks that contain sugar and salt. If the kids hold their hands still the newly hatched Butterflies will land and drink! They also like to land on spoiling fruit so slice that over ripe banana and put it on a rock.  If you look up into a tree with a dripping wound, you might see Mourning Cloaks drinking the dripping sap.  You apply the same thing when you use Maple syrup on you pancakes.

          Shelter is important as those wings are delicate! The wind blows the Butterflies around and tears wings, so a number of plants, such as shrubs, for them to hide in are important. Among early bloomers or plants with big leaves for food are Spice Bush, Privet, Moss Phlox, Grape Hyacinth, Clover, Chives, and Dandelions.

          Baby birds are hatching about the same time that the Butterfly larvae (baby Butterflies) is coming out. Both are hungry.  Some of my magazines have dried worms for sale. If you put them out the birds will find them easier than the hiding ones and leave the Butterfly larvae alone. The larvae grows in a series of stages called “Instars”. Each time as it grows it pops off its old skin for a new one   that makes room for its bigger self.  Many of us have watched our Cabbage plants develop holes, and then bigger ones, from the little white Butterflies growing up.  Some larvae are even meat eaters. For example, the Blues eat “Ant larvae. When the baby Butterflies are hatching out of the larvae, they also need a place to hide.

          When you plan your Butterfly garden, try to plant in groups so they will be easier to find and provide some density for protection from the wind, and rain.  Butterfly Weed (Asclepsis sp.) and Butterfly Bush (Buddleia sp.) are mainstays. Butterfly Bush is 6 to 8 feet tall whereas Butterfly Weed is shorter at 18-24 inches tall and refuses to be transplanted after they get any size and are a bright orange. You are not likely to get many blooms the first year from either plant. I cut the Butterfly Weed to the ground in either spring or fall. The Butterfly Bush I cut in the spring just above the lowest sign of growth.  I have blue, lavender, pink, and white bushes.  Another nice tall one is Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium), a perennial that likes a good amount of water for its roots.  I have counted as many as 6 different species of Butterflies on Joe Pye at the same time.

          In Stokes Butterfly Book they made a list of the top 10 favorite flowers for Butterflies. They were Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium), Liatris (Gayfeather), Coreopsis sp., Pentas sp., Aster sp., Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa),  Lantana, Purple Coneflower (Echinacea), and Buddleia sp. Notice that all of them do well in our area. The smallest number I plant in one area is three so that they don’t run out of nectar and are easier for Butterflies to spot.  These are all nectar feeders for adult Butterflies.  

          The females then seek out the plants for the caterpillars that will hatch.  They “stamp” their feet on the leaf to secure the proper smell and surface to maintain their children and then most lay their eggs underneath.  Some place their eggs on the ground near the plant, others fly over and release eggs as they go. One lays each egg by itself at the end of a “rope”. In a future article I will share my quite long list of larvae food. Many of them are in our gardens in Lincoln.

Copyright 2015