Butterfly gardening also helps wildlife

The September Gardener

Thomas Bruce, Dougherty County Parks and Gardens coordinator, is seen with Suzanna Macintosh, Southwest Georgia Master Gardener, at Radium Springs Garden.

Thomas Bruce, Dougherty County Parks and Gardens coordinator, is seen with Suzanna Macintosh, Southwest Georgia Master Gardener, at Radium Springs Garden.

In our fast paced stressful world it is hard to overestimate the enjoyment of a butterfly garden. Whether large or small, in your backyard or on your balcony, at your business, church or school, you’ll find butterflies will flock to your garden if you follow a few simple guidelines.

Whether creating a large or small butterfly garden, the guidelines are simple. Butterflies need water, shelter and food.

Butterflies like to bask in full sun and so flowers should be in the open, but sheltered from wind. Flat stones and some bare earth for basking are great additions and your butterflies will need some shallow water sources.

Adding some moist sand will provide not only water, but also important minerals. Wind and rain can harm delicate butterflies, so they need nearby trees and shrubs to shelter and protect them. For food sources, butterflies need both host and nectar plants throughout the spring, summer and fall seasons. It is important to minimize the use of pesticides around a butterfly garden and to leave some leaf litter and brush for overwintering butterflies.

Most of us know that native plants, once established, are generally hardier and require less water, but one of the most important reasons to grow native plants has often been overlooked until recently. Because our butterflies and other plant-eating insects evolved with native plants and because butterflies go through a complete metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, at the early stages each butterfly species needs a specific native plant (called a “host plant”) on which to lay its eggs.

When the caterpillars emerge, they must have something digestible to eat and just any green leaf will not do! For Monarch butterflies, the host plant is Milkweed and without Milkweed they cannot survive. Each butterfly species depends on specific host plants and some examples are Maypops, Parsley, Dogwood, Redbud and Wild Cherry.


When creating a butterfly garden the guidelines are simple. Butterflies like full sun with some type of shelter from the wind. Flat stones and bare earth are nice touches, along with a shallow water source.

Once someone understands this, it becomes a “Eureka!” moment. Butterflies are attracted to large splashes of color and some good nectar plants for adult butterflies are Black-eyed Susan, Butterfly Bush, Lantana, Purple Coneflower, Salvia and Zinnia. Because much of our native habitat has been lost to development, there are often not enough native plants to sustain the needs of butterflies and other wildlife. By learning about butterfly gardening, we learn about sound gardening practices that will sustain not only our butterflies, but our birds and many other types of wildlife.

To help show the way, in a collaborative effort with Dougherty County and Albany Technical College’s award-winning Environmental Horticulture Department, Southwest Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteers have been hard at work developing a Monarch Butterfly Pollinator Demonstration Garden for your enjoyment at Radium Springs.

The idea for the garden was inspired by Tallahassee’s Apalachee Audubon Monarch Garden at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and by Doug Tallamy’s book “Bringing Nature Home,” which has gardeners across the nation rethinking common gardening practices.

This new butterfly garden is set in one of our state’s most treasured areas, for did you know that Radium Springs joins Stone Mountain, the Okefeenokee Swamp, Warm Springs, Providence Canyon, Tallulah Gorge, and Amicalola Falls as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia?

We hope you’ll stop by the garden at Radium Springs soon. Radium Springs is a great place for family outings, not only for enjoying the new butterfly garden, but for nature watching, birding and other outdoor activities. The nearby Radium Springs Observation Point overlooks the tree-lined channel connecting Radium Springs to the Flint River and this area is included on Georgia’s Southern Rivers Birding Trail as one of the state’s exceptional birding areas, providing opportunities to catch a glimpse of a White Ibis or a Mississippi Kite and many other extraordinary birds, especially during spring and fall migrations. There are picnic tables nearby, too.

Radium Springs Gardens is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Sundays. It is closed on some holidays.

Master Gardeners will host fall tours of the Radium Springs Butterfly Garden on Oct. 6, Nov. 3 and Dec. 1 (all Saturdays) between 10 a.m. and noon.

For more information, please call the Dougherty County Extension Office at 229 435-7216 or see the Southwest Georgia Master Gardener website at www.swgamastergardeners.com.

The Southwest Georgia Master Gardener Association is coordinated through the Dougherty County Extension Office under Urban Horticulture CEA James Morgan. The Association includes members from Baker, Clay, Dougherty, Lee, Mitchell, Randolph, Sumter, Terrell, and Tift Counties.

Suzanna McIntosh is a resident of Baker County and is a master gardener. She has been a member of the Georgia and Southwest Georgia Master Gardener Associations since 2004.


FryarTuk 3 years, 2 months ago

This is a great article. Another good thing about the Albany area!


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