THIS WEEK'S THEME IS: BUTTERFLIES
Creating a butterfly garden is a wonderful activity to do with children and a great way to get them interested in gardening and nature while introducing them to a bit of science at the same time.
Use the opportunity to talk about butterflies' fascinating life cycle. It begins with eggs laid by an adult female butterfly on a host plant. These eggs hatch, develop into caterpillar larvae, form chrysalises, and emerge as adult butterflies – and the cycle starts over again.
There are about 400 species of butterfly in Australia with a significant number of these living on a wing and a prayer due to habitat loss and removal of key food plants. So they need all the help we can give them to ensure that don’t disappear from our gardens altogether. But, as we are helping them, they are helping us, by pollinating a range of plants and providing a important link in the food chain!
WHAT YOU NEED
So, how do we do it? Just follow a few simple steps and your garden will be attracting stunning butterflies in no time. Don't be discouraged if you have little space - a large pot on a sunny spot on your balcony might be all you need!
The key to a really successful butterfly garden is to provide both food and shelter for all stages of butterfly life - from the egg, to the caterpillar, to the butterfly and then over again.
Caterpillars like food plants (also called host plants) while the adults need the sugar in the nectar for energy. So to thrive, butterflies require both nectar-producing and host plants. The list below is a selection of native plants found in many parts of Australia that may attract butterflies to you garden however I recommend talking to a local nursery to find plants that are native to your area.
These are plants on which female butterflies will lay eggs. Great egg-laying and caterpillar-munching plants include:
Shrubs and Trees: Wattles (Acacia sp.), Bush Peas (Pultenaea sp.), Purple Fan Flower (Scaevola sp.)
Grasses: Lomandra sp., Poa sp. (including australis, tenera, labillardieri) and sedges like Gahnia sp. and Carex sp.
Ground Covers: Purple Coral Pea (Hardenbergia violacea), Running Postman (Kennedia prostrata)
Adult butterflies feed almost exclusively on nectar from flowers.
Colourful, massed beds draw butterflies in and keep them happily moving through the garden so having bold clusters of flowers is more effective than single plants dotted through a garden. An excellent idea is to group the plants together according to colour, creating big colourful clusters that butterflies just can’t resist.
The shape of the flower is important too, with simple, flat flowers easier for butterflies to extract nectar. Double flowers, such as roses for example, with their multiple petals are too complex. Daisies, native pelargoniums and bluebells, saltbush plants, and pea flowers are especially useful.
Some nectar-producing plants include:
Trees: Wattles (Acacia sp. including Silver, Black Wattle and Blackwood), Eucalypt sp., Allocasuarina sp., Tea Trees (Leptospermumsp.) and Banksia sp.
Shrubs: Bossaiea sp., Bursaria sp., Correa sp., Bottlebrushes (Callistemon sp.), Hop Goodenia (Goodenia ovata), Hakea sp., Pimeliasp., Boobialla (Myoporum sp.) and Kangaroo Apples (Solanum sp.)
Ground Covers: Purple Coral Pea (Hardenbergia violacea), Running Postman (Kennedia prostrata) and Native Violet (Viola hederacea)
Wildflowers: Pretty much all of them! Your garden centre will give you a good idea of some suitable local native plants
Climbers: Clematis sp., and Wonga Vine (Pandorea pandorana)
Start by making your garden as pesticide-free as possible. Certain pesticides can kill butterflies, so be careful what you use in your garden.
Choose a sunny, sheltered butterfly garden location. Plants and butterflies need sun to thrive. If possible place the garden behind a wall, shrubs or trees to shelter it from wind - butterflies don't like too much wind!
Butterflies are attracted to masses of bright colours – they see on the UV spectrum – so make sure you have lots of colourful flowers around, especially blue, yellow, hot pink, orange and red. This gives the butterflies plenty of options for nectar as well.
A variety of plants that bloom at different times will attract a diversity of butterfly species from early spring through late autumn. For example Azaleas will flower in spring, Sweet Bursaria in summer and Chrysanthemums in autumn.
OTHER THINGS YOU CAN DO
Provide flat rocks where butterflies can sun themselves and, if you pay close attention, you may be able to watch the butterflies “courting” each other!
Butterflies also need salt and minerals and you can help them get the nutrients they need by making a mud puddle. Fill a container such as shallow dish or a plant saucer with sand or gravel and bury it to the rim in the butterfly garden. Keep the pool wet by refilling it with water daily, or as often as needed.
After you’ve made a puddling pool, sprinkle salt on it occasionally and add overripe fruit, stale beer, or leaf or manure compost from time to time to provide the salt and nutrients backyard butterflies need.
Male butterflies frequent butterfly puddling pools more than females because of the males’ need for salt and other nutrients, which they pass to the females with their sperm. Puddling nutrients also help the males to produce pheromone, the chemical that males release to attract females.
For more information on Australian butterflies with local information check the following links:
New South Wales (northern)