Wildflower of the Week

Spring beauty, with its pink veins

What gardener wouldn’t want more butterflies in her gardens? They are pretty enough to be called magical as they colorfully flutter by on a sunny summer day.

Even though I’ve loved butterflies since I was a child, when I see one in my yard I’m still delighted.

To attract butterflies you can and should plant plenty of flowering plants that butterflies use as nectar sources. I’ve read that flat-topped flowers, such as zinnias or daisies or some of the big marigolds, offer good places for them to land. The colors yellow and purple are supposedly their favorites, so if you want butterflies to stop by use large splashes of those hues in your garden. You see, groups of flowers are easier for butterflies to discover.

In my quest for more butterflies, I once bought a wooden butterfly house (they were trendy a few years back). It looks like a tall, thin birdhouse but instead of an entry hole the structure has slits for openings. My butterfly house turned out to be ornamental, at least, as far as butterflies go. The only creatures it housed were paper wasps and spiders.

A better way to lure in butterflies might be to set out a “butterfly puddler.”

You see, butterflies drink by “puddling.” They sip liquid at shallow puddles of water in mud and sand. You may have seen them doing this on a lakeshore or at a mud puddle in the driveway.

I first saw an ad for a puddler in a garden supply catalog, but a quick check online revealed lots of sources that offer them for sale.

Most were made of clay or pottery and had a round expanse to fill with moisture for the butterflies. Puddlers are meant to be a little oasis for butterflies when placed in a sunny protected location.

All of these puddlers were pretty and would make great gifts for my nature loving friends. However, some were priced at $40 or more — way too fancy for me.

It is actually super easy to make your own butterfly puddler out of materials you likely already have on hand.

You will first need a shallow dish or container at least 18 inches wide. I used the top of an old bird bath that was just the right dimensions and set it right in the middle of my flower garden.

Next, fill the container with sand and mix in a sprinkling of salt and possibly a bit of manure. Pour water over the liquid until a puddle forms on the surface. As the water evaporates it will leave behind valuable salts and minerals that butterflies crave and need.

Gardening for butterflies is a suspenseful art. You will never know when they might show up. But once butterflies know where to find these minerals, they will, we hope, return regularly.

It is important to remember that butterflies are really just pretty insects and as such they are sensitive to any pesticides you might be thinking (oh, the horror!) of using in your gardens. Any insecticide that rids your garden of pests could kill butterflies, too.

And that would definitely be a shame.

Gardening guru Marilyn Quinn shares her green thumb knowledge weekly in the spring and summer. Contact her by emailing columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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