Gardeners discuss butterflies, moths

Staff report

SIDNEY — Butterfly and moth pollinators were the subject of a recent meeting of the Rainbow Gardeners of Shelby County.

Carol Braun and Teresa Freisthler distributed tips on how to attract these pollinators, what to plant and how to make accessories that enhance gardens and the environment.

Most moths are nocturnal and will feed and pollinate at night, they said. Moon gardens attract moths with light-colored flowers in pastel shades of white, creme, silver, pink and sky blue. Silver foliage and flowers that stay open at night include jasmine, gardenia, flowering magnolias, lamb’s ear, honeysuckle, four o’clocks and moonflower. White flowers tend to be quite fragrant, as well, so it’s a good idea to plant them near patios where you can enjoy watching the night-time visitors, they said.

Homemade moth bait can be mixed to attract moths. Mix brown banana peel, flat beer, molasses, brown sugar, and a dash of yeast. Let sit for a few days until the mixture forms a glob. Offer this concoction on a disposable plate or bowl since it will stain any surface.

Some moths, such as the hummingbird moth, feed during the day on the same flowers that attract butterflies. Others, such as the luna, cecropia, polyphemus and regal moths, are beautifully colored and worth watching for in the early evening.

To attract butterflies, these 10 tips were offered:

1. Choose sunny sites.

2. Protect butterflies from the wind.

3. Provide nectar sources from spring to fall. Sources can include flowers, fruit and sugar-water. To make nectar, mix 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. Heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Cool. Don’t use additional sugar since this can cause dehydration. This solution can also be used in hummingbird feeders. To offer homemade sugar-water nectar, soak a sponge and place on a plate away from ants or in a shallow jar hung on a shepherd’s hook. Over-ripe bananas, strawberries, orange slices, and watermelon can also be offered on a plate. Discard after 3 days.

4. Plant a variety of flowers. Large, flat, native flowers that have easy-to-reach centers will attract butterflies, and bright colors, especially red, should be included.

5. Plant flowers in masses. Butterflies are quite near-sighted, so planting in large masses rather than singly makes flowers easier for them to see.

6. Provide host plants for caterpillars such as milkweed for monarchs and parsley for swallowtails. Visit for more information.

7. Make puddlers. Butterflies can’t drink from a birdbath, but they need the chemicals that are present when water settles in a shallow indentation in rocks or clay. To make a “puddler”, use a shallow bowl or old birdbath at least 18” in diameter. Fill ¾ of the container with sand or tiny gravel. Add water until the sand is moist and add a few large stones for resting spots. Keep the sand or gravel moist.

8. Keep birdfeeders and birdbaths away from butterfly habitats.

9. Provide cover for overwintering butterflies and caterpillars.

10. Avoid pesticides.

Don’t waste your money on butterfly houses, the presenters said. These houses will not attract butterflies and are likely to become welcome mats for wasps and parasites.

Native perennials that attract butterflies include allium sedum, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, butterfly weed, milkweed, and many others. Annuals like cosmos, sunflowers, petunias, and zinnias come in the bright colors that butterflies love. Parsley, dill, mint, chives, milkweed, and many herbs are great feeding grounds caterpillars.

Providing beneficial butterflies and moths with the food they need to survive and reproduce can enhance any garden and beautify our surroundings.

Nancy Morgan offered the following growing tips for late spring:

• When buying a hanging basket, remember to continue to provide fertilizer on a weekly basis and water more frequently during dry, hot, and windy periods.

• Use a few drops of food coloring in a rain gauge to make the level easier to read.

• Use chip clips on garden gloves to keep spiders out.

• If space is limited, consider vertical growing. Lots of plants do well when grown on a trellis.

The group discussed upcoming events and work on the Hope Garden at Wilson Health. They also discussed setting up a Facebook page which will include information on flower gardening, floral arrangements and links to useful gardening sites. Guests and prospective new members are always welcomed at monthly meetings on the second Tuesday of the month at noon at the American Legion in Sidney.

Staff report