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Eight steps to bringing butterflies to your garden and keep them coming back again and again

COURTESY PHOTO - A swallowtail butterfly rests on milkweed, a plant know for providing habitat for butterflies.

Who doesn't like butterflies? Would you like to attract them to your yard or garden? Butterflies aren't just pretty; they are important pollinators for your flowers and veggies and a valuable food source for birds.

This month's article was inspired by a recent visitor to my garden, a swallowtail butterfly on my catmint flowers. You may be surprised to learn there are 20 species of butterflies and moths commonly found in the Pacific Northwest. Summer visitors to my garden are swallowtail, painted ladies, Monarch butterflies and hummingbird moths.

You too can create a habitat that supports them at all stages of their lives.

Here are eight considerations for a healthy butterfly-friendly garden:




Host plants

Minerals and Water

Basking and roosting sites

Winter shelter

Maintenance and understanding homeowners

Protection: These insects can be buffeted by wind, so give them a sunny site out of the wind. A windbreak can consist of a house, fence, trees or tall shrubs.

Nectar Plants: Include shrubs with pink or white flowers, such as milkweed, viburnum, oceanspray and rhododendron. Hardy vines on a trellis or wall also supply flowers such as Clematis and Honeysuckle. Nectar providing trees include Cottonwood, Cherry, Apple and Plum.

Fragrant Plants: Butterflies are near-sighted, so they are attracted to fragrant flowers. These include lavender, lilac and honeysuckle.

Host Plants: Butterfly caterpillars require food to grow and develop into butterflies. The food source is plant leaves, and most require specific plants to meet their species' nutritional needs. Planting host plants near the nectar plants enables them to live and reproduce for many generations. For example, Monarch butterflies require Showy, common or narrowleaf milkweed for their larvae.

Water: Butterflies need moisture, not deep water — a container or lid placed in a sunny spot into the ground, filled with clean sand and water to the top. Placing twigs or rocks on top gives butterflies a perch to land and sip. A little salt added in mid-summer gives them the minerals.

Basking and Roosting sites: Since butterflies are ectotherms, they need the sun to warm them to fly, and rarely fly below 60 degrees. They enjoy open, sunny spaces to bask, including large, flat rocks, brick, cement and gravel walkways. Much like chickens, they like to rest in the afternoon and evening and enjoy a protected site to roost. They also roost during wet weather and cold spells under leaves and man-made structures.

Winter shelter: Butterflies can over-winter here as adults or in larval stages. They hibernate under leaf litter or mulch, in tree cavities, garden sheds and bird houses. A log pile is particularly helpful for butterflies, native bees and amphibians.

Maintenance: Learn to recognize butterfly larvae and expect they will eat the plant leaves. Do not use pesticides in your butterfly garden. Can't you leave a small 'wild' spot in your yard year-round for these insects?

There are many butterfly friendly varieties of trees, shrubs and flowering plants for Central Oregon. Buy ones that are hardy for zone five or less. Choose a variety of plants to provide blooms throughout the year. See publication EC1549 on the OSU Extension website.

Happy gardening.

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