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Creating A Beautiful Butterfly Garden

Butterfly gardens: everything you need to know before starting your own.
By Becky Winn |

 

 

FREE TO FLUTTER: Butterflies like American ladies (left) are fond of fragrant flowers such as blue crown passion flowers (below right), according to expert Dale Clark
(below left).

Natural Attraction
If you plant it, they will come: Butterflies flock to gardens that grow the right flowers.

Blue Crown Passion Flower

Dale Clark has the comfortable manner of a man who is doing what he truly loves: raising and breeding butterflies. Moving methodically  through the rows of handmade, screened caterpillar bins on his breezeway, he explains the process of breeding with the enthusiasm of a childhood passion that has yet to fade. “I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by butterflies,” he says.

For many years, his interest was limited to hobby status, but 10 years ago, Clark took the plunge and decided to turn his hobby into a career. The results have been terrific. Today, he breeds 50 to 60 different species and ships about 1,000 butterfly pupae (the chrysalis stage) a week to various zoos, botanical gardens, and other butterfly displays around the country during the spring, summer, and fall seasons. Clark hopes to double that number this year.

He is quick to point out that to have a successful butterfly garden, one must be willing to live with caterpillars and their destruction. The point of planting plants is to attract caterpillars to feed off the nectar, lay their eggs, and provide leaves on which the larvae can feed.

Dale Clark

If you’re looking to purchase butterflies for your garden, don’t call Clark. “They aren’t trained dogs, so they won’t stay,” he says. His credo is “If you plant it, they will come.” So pick a spot in your garden, plant two or three nectar and host plants to support a butterfly population, and watch the magic begin.

Planting a Butterfly Garden
Butterfly gardening can be as simple or as elaborate as you want to make it. The simplest method is to plant a small garden with a few herbs and perennials, and see who shows up. Or, with minimal planning, install specific plants with particular butterflies in mind.

A good starting place is to plant dill, parsley, and fennel for black swallowtails; plant any of our native passionflowers for fritillaries; and plant native or tropical milkweed plants for monarchs. These butterflies are fairly common in the Dallas area and never fail to delight and entertain.

If you really want to put some effort into your butterfly garden, try attracting some of the more exotic butterflies such as the beautiful pipevine swallowtail, which requires woolly Dutchman’s-pipe (Aristolochia tomentosa), Virginia Dutchman’s-pipe (Aristolochia serpentaria), or Texas Dutchman’s-pipe (Aristolochia reticulata). Or go after the zebra longwing”one of Clark’s personal favorites “which needs various species of passion vine (Passiflora).

A final option: Choose a kit, complete with information and products needed to start a butterfly garden, from the National Wildlife Federation and the National Gardening Association, who’ve teamed up to take the hassle out of starting your own. Kits are available online at www.nwf.org/habitatshop in the “gardening for wildlife”section.

Monarch Waystations

Tiger Swallowtail basking in the sweet summer scent of lantana.

The migration of monarch butterflies has fascinated people for years, and North Texas is lucky enough to see hundreds of thousands of them as they make their way to Mexico. Unfortunately, the path of their migration has suffered from habitat and resource loss due to urban sprawl and the widespread use of pesticides. These chemicals have obliterated food sources and plants amenable to egg laying. Without natural waystations, monarchs have difficulty reaching their migration goals, and therefore must have resource patches where they can feed. A goal of Monarch Watch, an organization that collects data on the conservation of monarch butterflies, is to create at least 10,000 milkweed patches, dubbed “monarch waystations.”

Dallasites are in a prime location to assist the butterflies. Citizens can help by creating monarch waystations in home gardens, schools, parks, zoos, nature centers, field margins, along roadsides, and on other unused plots of land. They can also participate in butterfly tagging during the fall, a program in which more than 2,000 schools and 100,000 students and adults are already involved. Contact Monarch Watch at www.monarchwatch.org or call 888-824-4464 for more information.

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