Butterflies

Sunday, May 13, 2018 4:22 PM

I am intrigued by the beautiful butterflies that are around Tulsa each year, but know very little about them.  Could you tell me how I can attract them to my garden?   Melissa H., Tulsa

Most of us would agree with you that butterflies are such a visual blessing to our gardens.  They are both beautiful and do wondrous work in the pollinating world.  Two of the most common types of butterflies in our area are Monarchs and Black Swallowtails (the Oklahoma state butterfly).  

Food is obviously an essential part of their life cycle, but they are somewhat picky eaters and will feed exclusively on particular plants, called host plants.  Having these plants available will not only draw butterflies in to lay their eggs, but will allow you to watch the development of the caterpillars.  One of the keys to having beautiful monarch butterflies around your garden is having lots of milkweed.  Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed (Aesclepias) and cannot survive without it.  With almost 20 different species of milkweed native to Oklahoma, you’re sure to find some that fit your garden area.  When planting milkweed, be sure to plant multiples (three to five or more).  A single plant simply will not be sufficient for monarchs as they are eating machines.  If you want lots of monarchs, plant lots of milkweed.  Planting milkweed is a great way to help other pollinators too, as the plant provides valuable nectar resources to a diverse suite of bees and other butterflies.  Other nectar sources include marigolds, petunias and asters.  While milkweed is a beautiful plant to look at, be sure to keep milkweed sap out of your eyes as it can be irritating.  Caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail feed on parsley, dill, and fennel.  So, if you garden with these, plant enough for both you and the caterpillars.

A few key tips to coax these beauties to your yard include providing “roost” stations for them at varying heights and protection that shield them from wind and predators.  They are attracted to plant color, structure and height.  Provide moist areas with shallow puddles to encourage gathering.  Butterflies are cold blooded and enjoy warming themselves in the sun so provide rocks or exposed soil that will warm to the sun’s exposure.  Use very few, if any, insecticides as they can easily kill good insects along with bad ones, and no bug zappers please.

Because of modern changes, habitat destruction, and shifting land management practices (suburbanization), there is a lot less milkweed today than previously.  This has caused a decline in monarch butterfly populations and numbers to be at an all-time low for the last two overwintering seasons.  Many pollinators are declining as well.  By planting milkweeds and nectar plants for adult monarchs and pollinators, you can help maintain the monarch migration and sustain the pollinators whose pollinating services maintain our ecosystems.

MonarchWatch.org as a terrific resource to learn more about monarch butterflies and milkweed.   Also, consider attending a free seminar called “Monarchs, Milkweeds and More” on May 26th at the Tulsa fairgrounds, hosted by the Tulsa Master Gardeners.  Detailed information can be found on the tulsamastergarders.org website.