LAPEER, Mich. (AP) -- Planting a butterfly habitat can turn a corner of your yard into a garden of fluttering delights. And it doesn't take much work; just some careful attention to detail.
Start by selecting the right spot. Butterflies and most of the plants they feed on thrive in full sunlight. Shelter from strong winds is also important because butterflies aren't the strongest flyers. In fact, they can't flutter at all until their bodies have been warmed by the morning sunshine, so the earlier that sunlight catches your garden, the better.
Once you've picked the right location, choose your plants carefully. A good anchor for the garden is Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii). The fast-growing woody shrub reaches 5 feet to 7 feet tall and produces clusters of lilaclike flowers all summer long. Because of its somewhat unkempt growth habit, Butterfly Bush works best in the back of the border or at the center of an island garden.
Another ideal plant is Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), a stout-growing wildflower with deep orange blossoms that attracts butterflies in droves. Because it is in the milkweed family, the leaves also serve as food for monarch butterfly leaves.
Blazing Star (Liatrus) is another excellent choice. The easy-to-grow native wildflower sends up spikes of purple or white blossoms that provide a nectar source in mid- and late summer.
Never forget that butterfly gardens should be people gardens, too, with plants that attract humans. Two early bloomers that look striking in combination are Threadleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata) and Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia).
Coreopsis ''Golden Gain'' is a popular cultivator, which forms 24-inch mounds of delicate foliage. This carefree perennial explodes with golden-yellow flowers from early to midsummer.
Pair it with Lavandula ''Blue Cushion,'' which produces deep blue flowers on plants reaching 16 inches tall. Both share the same early summer blooming time and are favorites of Painted Lady, Frittilary and Skipper butterflies.
To continue the color and nectar into mid- and late summer, grow Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and Yarrow (Achillea), two plants with long blooming habits and drought tolerance.
Achillea ''Anthea'' is an excellent plant that flowers from late spring through summer, has a sturdy growth habit and tolerates midsummer rain and humidity. And while most yellow yarrows are bold and brassy, ''Anthea'' has a softer, pastel color.
All butterfly plants will attract more attention if grown in masses. For dramatic results, plant smaller perennials in groups of three to five plants to create a sea of color that will lure butterflies from a distance.
Besides nectar-rich flowers, grow a few plants that provide food for butterfly larvae. Parsley, dill and fennel will encourage black Swallowtail butterflies to lay eggs in your garden. The menacing-looking parsley worms that emerge will sprout tiny orange horns when you touch their soft bodies.
Butterfly gardeners should understand that most insects in the garden are friendly and pesticides often kill good bugs along with the bad. Therefore, avoid insecticides.
It is also wise to provide a water and mineral source for butterflies. A small mud puddle will allow Tiger Swallowtails and other butterflies to drink and absorb minerals from the moist earth.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.