Master Gardener Sharyn Altman enjoys welcoming others into her garden. She was especially delighted when a "winged wonder" fluttered her way, claiming the outdoor space as its home.
"About two years ago, I had a Zebra Swallowtail in my garden, and it was simply wonderful," the Martinez resident said. "The butterfly is seen only about once a year. And you really have to watch for it closely, because it moves so quickly."
While the butterfly was literally gone in the blink of an eye, Altman fondly remembers the guest.
"It was just a treat to have," she said. "I think all butterflies are special. Sometimes they're only here for a very short time, some as little as two weeks."
The black-and-white striped butterfly's stay was not by chance. Having all the right conditions made it the ideal place to nest and complete its metamorphosis.
"It's important to first recognize the butterflies as caterpillars," Altman said. "Feeding the caterpillars helps them to recognize the environment as a source of food, and they are more likely to complete their transformation there."
Each species of butterfly, more than 200 in Georgia, is specific to a host plant. In the larval state, the Zebra Swallowtail, for example, gets its food from the pawpaw tree. Then, as an adult, the butterfly often looks to blueberry bushes and redbud trees for nectar.
The type of flowers planted will also make it easier for butterflies to get to the nectar they require.
"Be sure to select single flowers rather than double flowers," she said. "It's hard for them to get their proboscis into double flowers."
Including plants with large splashes of color rather than mixed colors is also key to keeping the butterflies fluttering around the garden.
"I always advise people to plant one bed of a particular plant in one color," Altman said. "It's easier for the butterflies to spot a single color, especially red, yellow or purple, but it doesn't mean that they won't come to a mixed bed of flowers."
If your landscape lacks the space to plant specific host plants, it's still possible to attract and feed butterflies with some everyday kitchen staples.
"Fruit is a great source of food for butterflies," Altman said. "Really brown bananas are ideal, because the butterfly will suck the sugar right out of it. Watermelon rinds also work just as good."
Another simple, homemade source of feeding butterflies is a sugar-water solution.
"Mix a 1 to 8 ratio of water and sugar, then put it into a sponge where the butterflies can get the solution," Altman said. "Just be sure to keep the sponge clean and free of mold."
Just as there are simple things to do to attract butterflies to a garden, there's one important thing to remember: keep the area free of chemicals.
"With all of the pesticides and everything that people are using in their yards, butterflies are losing their habitat," said Jenny Addie of Green Thumb Nursery.
"There's been a tremendous decline in their population, and many will be extinct within the next 10 years," she said.
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