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Butterfly Gardening

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 13, 2013

On Mother's Day this year I am privileged to be a part of the ribbon cutting for the new butterfly house at Wildlife Prairie Park in Peoria. The idea for this native butterfly habitat came from several University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists.

If you love butterflies, you could also put in a butterfly garden habitat in your own yard. You don't need a lot of space to attract our native butterflies.

There are two different types of plants you can grow for butterflies: nectar food sources and larval food sources.

Nectar sources attract the adult butterfly. Many different types of flowers will serve as a nectar source. Avoid planting flowers with double or triple petals (zinnias are an exception). Blue, purple, and white are the favored flower colors to attract butterflies with red probably the least favored color.

Providing larval food plants is where butterfly gardening diverts from all other types of gardening. With these plants you are feeding the caterpillars that eventually turn into adult butterflies. It is hard for many people to allow a critter to eat up their garden plants. However, each type of butterfly larvae eats a specific type of plant. Monarch caterpillars, for example, feed only on milkweed plants, while others feed only on certain trees or herbs.

Butterfly gardens should be colorful, sunny, and sheltered from strong winds. Butterflies are sun worshipers and prefer areas in full sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Provide rocks and logs for the butterflies to bask. In addition to the variety of flower groups, your garden could include other attractants. Puddles will attract male butterflies to drink and some butterflies prefer to sip juices from rotting fruit. Finally, reduce pesticide use. Butterflies are insects and are susceptible to most insecticides.

I encourage you to visit the new Kim St. John Butterfly Habitat at Wildlife Prairie Park many times this summer. The butterfly house is made possible by a very generous gift to the park in loving memory of Kim St John from friends and family.

This house is modeled after the Tallgrass Butterfly House in Pana, Illinois. The house showcases native Illinois butterflies using a modest structure of metal hoops covered with netting. The house covers 2,600 square feet and is filled with larval and nectar plants.

I hope you find time to slow down and enjoy a butterfly garden this summer. For as Nathaniel Hawthorne said, "Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."

Source: Rhonda J. Ferree, Extension Educator, Horticulture & State Master Naturalist Coordinator, ferreer@uiuc.edu