This time of year is frustrating for the gardener who wants to provide nectar for the season’s first butterflies. Many late spring and summer perennials are not blooming yet. While the garden may have daffodils, irises and azaleas, they do not tempt a butterfly in search of a much-needed meal.
It is almost painful for the butterfly gardener to watch the insects flit through the garden, hovering over flowers but not alighting to sip. Several inexpensive, reliable annual and perennial nectar sources to plant now in containers or in the ground, are widely available at nurseries.
Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens): One of the earliest bloomers, this evergreen perennial performs year after year. Planted in part sun, it has a cascade of white flowers that blots out its evergreen foliage in the early spring. In my garden, the plants sporadically bloom during the summer and are frequented by butterflies of many kinds in March, when little else is available.
Meadow sage (Salvia nemorosa): This plant is covered with bees and smaller butterfly species in early spring and continues blooming through summer. The reblooming perennial is drought-tolerant and thrives in the heat of the full sun.
Hardy heliotrope (Heliotropium amplexicaule): Native to Argentina, this drought-tolerant perennial is unfazed by either our extreme hot summers or record cold snaps. It can act as a lovely groundcover if planted thickly, luring a variety of butterflies to its violet flower heads. Reaching about 12 inches in height, give it a little room in full to part sun; it likes to sprawl.
Lantana (Lantana species): A butterfly garden can never have too much lantana. Last year’s plants are breaking ground with new foliage now but have yet to flower; however, plenty are in full bloom now at nurseries. With a wide variety-‘Radiation,’ ‘Confetti,’ and trailing purple, for example, – there’s a size and color to fit any landscape.
Rough verbena (Verbena rigida): The leaves on this low growing perennial are sandpaper rough and topped by magenta-purple flowers. It can spread underground and colonize a sunny location, so plant it where you don’t mind it taking over.
Mexican flame vine (Senecio confuses): Give this vine lots of sun for continuous blooms all season. The electric-orange flowers are irresistible to most butterflies. Though technically a tropical plant native to Mexico, it can sometimes survive our winters and resprout.
For more information on Dallas-area butterflies you might see in the garden, go to the Dallas County Lepidopterists’ Society, www.dallasbutterflies.com
This article was originally printed in the Dallas Morning News, on Thursday, April 14, 2011, and was written by Dale Clark. Dale is a butterfly farmer in south Dallas County.