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Planning a backyard butterfly bonanza
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Forsyth County News

Who doesn’t marvel at the beauty of butterflies? But when was the last time you saw one?

I began noticing a shortage of them in our yard a few years ago. I know many people and organizations who blame the butterfly and bee shortage on the presence of too many pesticides and chemicals on just about everything. That makes sense.

A recent article in Field and Stream magazine said that bad weather and a lack of milkweed have greatly contributed to a shortage of Monarch butterflies. The article said that biologists estimated that there will be 35 million Monarchs instead of what could have been a billion.

Experts said that the heat in 2012 and then all of the wet weather we had last year have caused numerous problems for all butterflies.

Add to that the fact that so much land continues to be cleared, which reduces the number of flowering plants and milkweed that attract butterflies and serve as places where their larvae hatch. So you can see why there is such a shortage.

Learning about this has made me go on a bit of an “attract butterflies” campaign. Naturally, that had to start at home first.

Now that our children are pretty much grown, we decided we really don’t need much grass in our fairly large back yard. This year, we began the process of digging up grass, creating beds for flowers and plants, and also expanding our vegetable and herb garden.

My husband, Paul, would really say a loud “hah” at my use of the word “we.” While it is true I am usually the instigator and planner of all things gardening, when it comes to the actual labor, I’m really more like the garden director.

Don’t get me wrong. I love and support my gardener in chief, and do my best to keep him happy. I stand nearby and say encouraging things like, “Wow! You’re strong.”

I also bring him water and remind him how much money we are saving by doing all of the work ourselves, err, himself. 

Last weekend, after my butterfly research, we went to the nursery and bought several butterfly-attracting plants, including a butterfly bush, lavender, milkweed, shasta daisies, Zinnia and some lantana.

I was directing the planting and am not exaggerating when I tell you that minutes after Paul planted the bush, a butterfly came to visit. It flew away when the dogs walked by, but returned minutes later.

I also read about a way to create a little butterfly oasis. All you do is take a large (16-inch) clay saucer and fill it with a mixture of sand and a few tablespoons of mushroom compost.

Then, soak the mixture completely and place it on top of an inverted clay pot near your butterfly-attracting plants and flowers. Keep the sand mixture moist and the butterflies will love to land on it and rehydrate as well as get minerals and salt that they need. Who knew?

I also read that butterflies love fermenting fruit, which is a nice way to say rotting fruit. Apparently, you can put some sliced bananas or apples on a saucer near their oasis and they will enjoy that too.

I don’t think our dogs would let that happen, and flies likely would be a problem. But if you try this and have luck, please let me know.

I found it interesting to learn that butterflies range in size from 1/8 inch to a wing span of 12 inches.

If I saw a 12-inch long butterfly flying towards me, I would freak out, so I’m glad we don’t have any that big.

I also read that butterflies can see red, green and yellow. Can’t imagine how researchers figured out that, but they also say that the top flight speed of a butterfly is 12 mph.

By comparison, moths are practically speed demons, flying as fast as 25 mph.

Lastly, I learned that there are about 24,000 species of butterflies. I’m hoping to attract many to our back yard, just not those with the 12-inch wingspan.


Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at