This spring, create a special habitat designed to attract all kinds of beautiful butterflies.

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When welcoming spring, there’s nothing like a party of flora, fauna and fluttering butterflies that evolve from planting a butterfly garden. As small as a container garden or as big as a large plot of land, a butterfly garden can be any size, is low maintenance, and full of plants native to your area. Providing a sensory feast with showy, fragrant, nectar-rich blossoms enticing butterflies to dance among blooms, watching these plant pollinators may nurture your soul while they nurture the environment.

The key to a successful butterfly garden is to keep it simple with a little preliminary planning. Discover which butterfly species live in your area, which ones you wish to attract, and which plants those species prefer. Some plants, like the passionflower vine attract butterflies and have a calming effect on humans. Its blooms are magnificent, and its name is irresistible. Many butterfly garden plants are native, ensuring they will grow well in Florida’s sun-baked soil.

While Florida’s blazing summer may seem like it’s right around the corner, experts say it’s not too late to begin experimenting with butterfly gardening.

“March is a good month for planting. Frost danger is over and the days are getting longer,” says Robert Mertens, horticulture program specialist with the University of Florida and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Services (IFAS) joint program. Mertens works specifically with the IFAS Extension in Sarasota County, but says all Florida counties’ IFAS Extension offices are a great resource for all things green and growing.

While Florida is home to more than 180 species of butterflies, their natural habitats are vanishing due to rapid urban development and climate change. The iconically handsome Monarch suffers from population decline due to the loss of its Milkweed habitat, so planting Milkweed is the best known plan for preserving Monarchs as they pass through Florida while migrating between Michigan and Mexico. The elegant Longwing Zebra is also attracted to Milkweed as well as Pentas, Blue Porterweed, Lantana, Salvia and other easy-care plants.

If you’re happy to just attract visiting butterflies, planting nectar flowers will suffice. The butterfly’s proboscis functions as a straw for sipping liquid nectar from flowers. If your goal is a habitat for butterflies to make their home, you’ll need to plant host plants to give shelter for courtship, mating and laying eggs. Host plants also provide leaves for hungry little caterpillars to munch while training for metamorphosis. Host plants must be free of chemical pesticides and placed with nectar flowers and some distance from your vegetable garden. Butterflies also need a water source, which can be as simple as a little wet sand – or as fancy as a garden fountain.

Once you decide your garden’s dimensions – and the right plants to attract the butterflies you desire – plant the garden where you can maintain it easily and see it clearly from a garden bench or window. Breathe in the sweet fragrance, feel the spring breeze, observe the butterfly dance – and enjoy.

The UF/IFAS website can help you find an Extension near you, where its helpful staff can aid you in choosing the right butterfly plants, specific to your region. Visit them online at: www.ifas.ufl.edu. 

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