Using flower bulbs to attract butterflies into your garden
It still seems a long way off, but just imagine... After a long winter, you're sitting in your garden on one of the first sunny days. Your flower bulbs are in bloom, and you see a butterfly fluttering happily from flower to flower... This pretty picture can become reality when you plant the right flower bulbs now! Then, when spring arrives, your garden will be one big sweet shop for butterflies.
Many bulb flowers (the name given to flowers produced by flower bulbs) attract butterflies. This is because of the large quantities of nectar found in their flowers. Butterflies just adore nectar. Nectar is a sweet syrupy liquid containing sugars, proteins and vitamins. Most female butterflies need these nutrients to lay their eggs. And, while their colourful wings flutter from flower to flower, butterflies also pollinate the flowers they visit. It's a win-win situation!
How can you create a sweet shop for butterflies?
You need three things to attract butterflies to your garden: sweets in the form of nectar as well as sun and protection from the wind. Butterflies are cold-blooded creatures that have to warm up to be able to fly. They do this by spreading their wings in a sunny location out of the wind. You've probably seen this before when a butterfly suns itself on a fence or stone. Create your sweet shop by planting these flower bulbs known to attract butterflies:
Chionodoxa - Glory-of-the-Snow
These cheerful little star-shaped flowers are available in blue, pink, white and lilac. Flowering in: February - March.
This is one of the more familiar flower bulbs. Their flowers close up at night and during cloudy weather. Flowering in: February - March.
Scilla siberica - Siberian Squill
These gorgeous little flowers resemble those of Glory-of-the-Snow. There are both blue and white varieties. Flowering in: February - April.
Hyacinthus - Hyacinth
Their small curly individual flowers and sparkling spring colours make hyacinths a perfect choice to add to the spring menu for butterflies. And their fragrance is also delightful. Flowering in: March - May.
Muscari - Grape Hyacinth
This little plant produces spikes filled with little ball-shaped flowers that have a musky fragrance. There are blue, purple and white varieties. Flowering in: March - May.
Allium - Ornamental onions
A single globe-shaped inflorescence produced by an Allium bulb is actually made up of many tiny flowers. They are available in a wide range of colours, species and sizes. Flowering in: April - June.
Hyacinthoides - Spanish Bluebell
Their blue bell-shaped flowers are arranged in a cluster on sturdy stems. Flowering in: May - June.
Nectaroscordum – Sicilian Honey Garlic
Their unique bell-shaped flowers dangle gracefully in little clusters from tall flower stems. Flowering in: May - June.
Pleasure year after year
Planting flower bulbs together in large groups produces a beautiful visual effect. But it's also nice to plant more than one kind together in a group. A great example of such a combination would be Siberian Squills with Winter Aconites and Snowdrops. This sweet shop will grow and flower year after year. Remember, however, to let the foliage die back completely; this will allow the bulb to store enough nutrients to produce an impressive flower display the year thereafter.
- The amount of nectar produced by a flower varies from plant species to plant species but also depends on such factors as moisture and sunlight. This is why this amount can even fluctuate over the span of a day in the same flower!
- Butterflies have a long proboscis that allows them to reach the nectar in flowers that bees and bumblebees can't reach as well with their shorter tongues.
- Butterflies survive through the winter as adult butterflies, as pupae in cocoons, as caterpillars or eggs. The Common Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and European Peacock are examples of butterflies that survive through the winter as adults. For this group, the nectar from flowers is their first food upon emerging from hibernation. This is also a good reason to plant early-flowering bulbs.