When planning your gardens this year, how about adding a butterfly garden for your children or grandchildren? It's a great, fun, learning experience for them. A space as small as three feet by six feet will hold enough flowers to attract a few butterflies. Don't worry if their garden gets a little weedy – the butterflies don't care. They are attracted by color and/or smell. A large grouping of bright milkweed or red salvia is easier for them to see and smell than individual or isolated plants.
When selecting your butterfly garden location, look for the sunniest spot in your yard. Butterflies need the heat from the sun to raise their body temperatures to help them fly.
If possible, plant milkweed seeds for the monarch butterfly. Several years ago I experimented with a small patch of milkweeds and each year I am rewarded with the most delicate, wonderful fragrance from the blossoms and eventually see the larvae of the monarch butterfly. The caterpillar stage of the monarch feeds on the leaves of the milkweed plant. If you try planting milkweed, be sure to remove the pods before they burst and the wind caries them to places you don't want milkweeds.
Some other perennials that germinate well in the outdoor garden are coneflowers, meadow rue, liatria and yarrow. They may not bloom until the second year so you can consider adding some plants to the butterfly garden or using part of a current garden.
The butterflies will appreciate a few rocks in your garden design. Butterflies often rest on rocks, which reflect the heat of the sun and they prefer some shelter from high winds. Edge the garden with rounded rocks, put a small pile toward one side or make a path through the flowers with stepping stones. Also, provide a place where water can collect or add a pot or saucer filled with wet sand. Certain kinds of butterflies, mostly males, can often be seen on moist sand or mud collecting around puddles of water where they feed. It's not understood why, but maybe the water contains dissolved minerals needed by the insects. Keeping the moist area may attract groups of these butterflies.
A butterfly garden not only helps the butterflies, but gives the kids a perfect opportunity to watch the butterflies up close.
The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.