June 24, 2024
Consider these tips when planting a SC butterfly garden

Have you ever walked through a local botanical garden and longingly wished you could have your own butterfly garden at home?

As it turns out, it’s not too difficult to reimagine a butterfly haven in your own yard.

The Sun City Hilton Head Community Hummingbird & Butterfly Garden is laid out in a figure eight shape and overlooks Lake Somerset
The Sun City Hilton Head Community Hummingbird & Butterfly Garden is laid out in a figure eight shape and overlooks Lake Somerset Photo by Eleanor O’Sullivan

Having the right soil, having enough sunlight and adequate watering and caring for your flowers is all you need.

The preparation of the soils, getting a soil test to make sure you have the right environment for your plants, ideally at least some morning sun or a full day’s amount of sun as well as pre-made plans for the plants you’d like to have are all important beginning steps to creating an at-home butterfly garden, said Janet Fanning, manager for the The Greenery’s Hilton Head Island Garden Center. The Greenery’s Garden center is located on the island at 960 William Hilton Parkway.

Many pollinator plants, the best plants to select for such a garden, are sun-lovers.

This Spicebush Swallowtail is one of several butterflies species that seem to relish the Vermillionaire cuphea nectar.
This Spicebush Swallowtail is one of several butterflies species that seem to relish the Vermillionaire cuphea nectar. Norman Winter

The pollinator garden at the Garden Center holds a variety of plants that butterflies and bees love to orient themselves around and create a wonderful butterfly garden.

Passionvine, Salvia and Cuphea are predominant and necessary plants in a South Carolina butterfly garden. These brightly colored flowers even make up a majority of the Garden Center’s pollinator garden.

The bog sage Salvia uliginosa blooms all summers attracting a wide range of pollinators like bees and this Great Purple Hairstreak butterfly.
The bog sage Salvia uliginosa blooms all summers attracting a wide range of pollinators like bees and this Great Purple Hairstreak butterfly.

Many different varieties of Salvia are available and will bloom throughout the summer. They tend to be a group favorite for pollinators at the Garden Center. Cuphea also comes in several different varieties.

“If your goal is to host and take care of the Monarchs, a really important plant to have is Asclepias,” Fanning said.

Asclepias is also known as Milkweed and is essential for these butterflies.

Monarch butterflies have a special relationship with butterfly milkweed plants. They visit milkweeds for their nutritious nectar, but it is the plants themselves that are critical to monarchs’ survival. Milkweed plants are the only food that monarch caterpillars eat.
Monarch butterflies have a special relationship with butterfly milkweed plants. They visit milkweeds for their nutritious nectar, but it is the plants themselves that are critical to monarchs’ survival. Milkweed plants are the only food that monarch caterpillars eat. Noppadol Paothong Noppadol Paothong

The Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on the Asclepias and the hatchlings will munch away at it. Eventually the caterpillars will then form their chrysalis and the butterfly will soon emerge, Fanning said about the asclepias’ importance to Monarch butterflies’ life cycle.

Dill is the similar equivalent of Milkweed as a host plant for the Swallowtail butterfly.

Buddleia, also known as butterfly bush, is a common addition to any butterfly garden as well.

This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail visits a Pugster Amethyst buddleia that is surrounded by Supertunia Vista petunias.
This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail visits a Pugster Amethyst buddleia that is surrounded by Supertunia Vista petunias. Norman Winter Special to the Ledger-Enquirer

Now is a good time to plan for your garden and to plant your pollinators. You can plug new plants into your garden all summer long until the temperatures begin to chill and potentially frost. However, the earlier you plant your Milkweed plant the better.

We’re fortunate here because we can garden for such a long time before the cold dormancy of winter then on to another long growing season, Fanning said.

Growers will want to focus primarily on the pollinator plants when starting their own garden. This is why initially planning the plants you want to include beforehand is essential.

It’s important to understand the necessary needs of each plant, the sunlight they require and how much they need to be watered. Watching the plants and pruning weak flower buds is also the key to maintaining your plants’ health and maximizing bountiful blooms.

Vermillionaire cuphea produces abundant, tubular flowers up and down the stems and all over the entire plant all summer long. It grows well either in containers or the ground.
Vermillionaire cuphea produces abundant, tubular flowers up and down the stems and all over the entire plant all summer long. It grows well either in containers or the ground. Gary R. Bachman Mississippi State University Extension Service

Butterflies all live together. I recommend planting lots of different plants and having a jumble of color and texture in your garden, detailed Fanning. This is going to please the bees as well as the butterflies. Especially in the late summer you’ll notice the garden alive with movement.

“It’s a lot of fun honestly and it’s not hard to do,” Fanning said.

Fanning also noted that it is important to water your plants in the morning before the heat of the day to fully hydrate the plants and prepare them enough to tolerate the coming heat.

In midsummer they are just beautiful. You can see the humming and the buzzing and, with the Salvia, hummingbirds will visit them all the time too. So, they are a part of the equation. The butterflies, the bees and the hummingbirds all benefit, explained Fanning.

“The hummingbirds are incredible, but just watching the interplay with all of it is amazing. If you’re having a stressful day you go out to just see all of the butterflies, especially the Zebra Longwing which is my favorite, it’s truly just wonderful.”

This story was originally published April 8, 2023, 8:00 AM.

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Sarah Claire McDonald is a Service Journalism Reporter for The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette. She specializes in writing audience-focused, unique, spotlight stories about people, places and occurrences in the Lowcountry. Originally from the Midwest, Sarah Claire studied news media, communications and English at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where she graduated in 2021.