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Schmidt: Tips For Starting a Butterfly Garden

By Staff | Jun 26, 2015

If you enjoy watching butterflies fluttering from one flower to the next, you may want to consider starting a butterfly garden.

Ron Smith, retired North Dakota State University Extension Service horticulturist, says “Butterflies bring a sense of excitement to a flower garden and are relaxing and uplifting at the same time.” Smith also adds that “Butterfly gardens are a simple and easy way to beautify a community or a backyard.”

To be successful, a butterfly garden must have nectar sources and host food plants. The flowers provide food and water for adult butterflies in the form of nectar, and host plants provide food for growing caterpillars.

Location is important when planning a butterfly garden. A sunny, south-facing butterfly garden will attract more butterflies. Their eggs will hatch sooner and caterpillars will develop quicker, resulting in more butterflies. Gardeners also need to know what butterfly species are found in the area, along with what type of native and exotic flowers grow well in the region.

Find a sheltered spot that is protected from northwest to west winds because butterflies expend less energy if they are not fighting the wind. Bushes, gazebos or trellises can be used as windbreaks. Butterflies also need a perch, such as garden ornaments, so they have a place to bask in the sun or rest. Butterflies need sun to warm their bodies to 85 to 100 degrees so they easily can fly.

Butterflies will need a water source, such as mud puddles or wet sandy areas, which provide the necessary salts or minerals for the butterflies. A butterfly feeder filled with a 10 percent sugar-water solution provides an additional nectar source.

It is important that butterfly gardeners should not use insecticides as insecticides will kill the butterflies since insecticides do not discriminate among insect species.

Butterfly gardeners may want to consider a combination of early-season, midseason and late-season flowers.

Early-season flowers:

Dames’ rocket




Midseason flowers:


Purple coneflower




Milkweeds, especially butterflyweed and bee balm

Late-season flowers:




Almost any colorful, heavily scented flower is likely to be some butterfly’s favorite.

More information on butterfly gardening is available at ag/ndsu.edu/extensionentomology/urban-and-forestry-insect-pests/documents/gardens/e-1266-butterfly-gardening-in-north-dakota. A copy of the publication, “Butterfly Gardening in North Dakota,” is also available at your local NDSU Extension Service office.

Watch for Sulfur Deficiency in Corn

Sulfur deficiency could be a big problem in corn this year, North Dakota State University Extension Service soil science specialist Dave Franzen warns.

“Sulfur (S) deficiency in corn is as widespread as I have ever seen it,” he says. “I applied 20 pounds of S as gypsum preplant to all my corn plots in the southeastern part of the state this year and several, particularly in loams/sandy loams, look like green islands in a yellow sea of corn.

“In the very southeastern part of the state where rainfall in loams to clay loams has been higher than most areas, even my plot area is showing symptoms, and my crew applied ammonium sulfate to my potassium rate trials yesterday just to make sure it was OK,” he adds

Producers should look for yellow, subtly striped upper/new leaves, with greener leaves beneath. If producers see green/yellow variability in the field, they should compare a plant sample from the green area with a plant from the yellow area to complete their diagnosis.

University researchers also should take note of any sulfur deficiency because it will affect the results of their trials, Franzen says.

He stresses that soil tests for sulfur are useless, so producers and researchers should not base their diagnosis on such tests.

The simplest solution to correct sulfur deficiency might be to apply ammonium sulfate dry over the top of the corn at a rate of 50 pounds per acre, according to Franzen. Three gallons per acre of ammonium thiosulfate streamed between the rows also would work, but it should not be broadcast.

“Supplements are needed as soon as possible,” he says. “Plots I let go until the V8 corn growth stage never recovered fully last year because the soil dried up soon afterward, and they never got a chance to root down early enough in the season. Maybe midseason will be wetter this year, but you never know, so earlier is better when applying supplements.”

Visit tinyurl.com/soilfertility for more soil fertility recommendations for corn.

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