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Moosa Creek Blog
MAR
29

Creating a Butterfly Garden

Creekside Chat

 Butterflies bring movement and grace to a garden. Non-native plants may provide food for a few species but there are over 150 different butterflies native to Southern California (SDNHM’s Checklist of Butterflies of SD County), and native plants provide food for all of them.

Not all adult butterflies can eat, so in addition to nectar sources a butterfly garden needs to provide host plants for the caterpillars. Don’t locate them close to bird feeders or baths, or you will have fat birds and few butterflies. If your host plants look chewed on then your garden is a success as caterpillars eat their fill before pupating; interplanting with non-host native plants will keep your garden looking good all year.  Often sold as a native, tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica; orange and yellow blooms) is sometimes treated with a systemic insecticide that will kill any feeding insect including monarchs. It is perennial, so cutting it to the ground in November will keep it from overwintering a deadly protozoa Ophryocystis elektroscirrha that feeds on Monarchs. Better still, replace it with the deciduous native  narrow-leaf or showy milkweed.

Buckwheats are excellent butterfly food. CA Interior Buckwheat makes a great slope stabilizer in hot areas, while Coastal Buckwheat tolerates the cooler, saltier shoreline. There is also Dana Point, California, the silvery foliage of the Ashy Leaf Buckwheat and many more.

 A favorite plant is the apricot flowered Desert Mallow, especially paired with the purple Cleveland Sage. Tiny yellow and orange flowers grace the airy and delicate Lotus or Deerweed. Any of the California Lilacs provide great winter food for our early butterflies; inland be sure to plant on southern slopes or give them afternoon sun protection.

Along with native food sources offer butterflies clean, cool water in a shallow flat bowl filled with pebbles or wet sand to simulate a stream bank.

Here are excellent lists of native larval food sources, and nectar sources, as well as a general list of habitat plants. Plant a wide variety for the most pleasing garden.

Native plants provide the best possible food for our native animals and insects, so plant the species best suited to helping our wildlife and enjoy the show.

Diane and Miranda Kennedy operate Finch Frolic Garden Permaculture, www.vegetariat.com. 

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