With the right plants and proper care, turn your garden into a butterfly sanctuary

Marianne Taylor
Marianne Taylor

By Marianne Taylor

Butterflies are beautiful. Their playful movements are mesmerizing to watch and attract the young and the young at heart.

It takes some serious research to establish butterfly habitats in your garden. But with some background knowledge and planning, you too can have these beneficial insects flying around your garden in no time.

Be sure to include the family and have fun while establishing the new habitats. Gardens can be any size: a window box, part of your current landscape design or even in a wild unattended area on your property.

The latest research indicates there are 67 butterfly species found in Orange County. One of the best sources of butterfly information found online is by Peter Bryant, a professor at UC Irvine’s School of Biological Sciences.

Butterflies differ in color and size—the largest, the swallowtail, is a delight to see. Only a handful of the 67 local types will likely visit your garden. But with patience and continual seasonal plantings of nectar and host plants, watch the butterflies come into your sanctuary. To help these butterflies thrive year after year, reduce pesticide use.

There are seven types of butterflies found at the butterfly-certified garden in Los Rios Park and surrounding neighborhood gardens in San Juan Capistrano: monarch, swallowtail, California tortoiseshell, buckwheat, gulf fritillary, checkered white and cloudless sulphur.

Some important factors to consider:

Nectar Plants: All adult butterflies like flowers, so plant nectar plants in mass plantings. Their favorite foods are asters, marigolds, monkey flower, oregano, milkweed, buddleias, hollyhocks, white yarrow, purple coneflowers and zinnias. Group your flowers together for easy butterfly access.

Host Plants: All the larvae will feed on the host plant and grow into caterpillars. Plant these close to the nectar plants and add several throughout each season. Host plants include milkweed, citrus, fennel, dill, parsley, snapdragons, ornamental cassia, mallow, hollyhocks, lions tail, false indigo, mustard, carrot, rue and rose.

Designing the Garden: Plant your host and nectar plants close to each other. Start with the tallest plants in the back, working down in size to low-growing plants or ground cover as you move forward. Remember to plant for all four seasons, as there are blooms that thrive throughout the year. Water features will attract more butterflies, and nearby trees and shrubs will provide crevices for them to stay during the winter. A few rocks or an old tree stump can provide butterflies a place to perch and rest.

Maintenance: Remove spent flowers as this will create more blooms. Move fallen leaves from pathways and into your garden. They add to the habitat and will add nitrogen to the soil. Water deeply and less frequently.

Creating a butterfly habitat is fun for the whole family. You’re not only building homes for butterflies in your garden, you’re also helping the planet by continuing the lifecycle of beneficial insects that pollinate and help the plant world thrive.

Send your gardening questions, comments or ideas to goinnative@gmail.com.

Marianne Taylor is a 24-year resident of San Juan Capistrano, in the Los Rios Historic District. She is married to City Councilman John Taylor and mother to 24-year-old Harrison and 16-year-old Claire. She is the executive director and “dirt therapist” for Goin Native.

About The Author Capo Dispatch