The Mariposa Garden
My three-year-old refers to butterflies as “mariposas”. “Mariposa” means “butterfly” in spanish. Yesterday she noticed that our gulf fritillary chyrsalides turned into butterflies in our kitchen butterfly habitat and she gleefully yelled, “Mariposa’s awake!” We let the butterflies dry their wings and then we let them go into our newly planted “mariposa garden”.
Our butterfly garden is finally finished. It didn’t happen in one afternoon. We spread it out over a couple of weeks. First the sod had to be taken up and then the weed mat was put down. We used landscaping staples around the edges to keep it in place. We used scissors to cut X’s in the weed mat where we planted our collection of butterfly host and nectar plants. After we planted everything, we put down the mulch. Gulf Coast Palm and Tree Landscape Nursery was a huge help to us.
We’ve planted lots of host and nectar plants for many types of butterflies that are found in Southwest Florida. The “after” picture looks a little sparse, but these plants will grow big quickly. The tree is a macadamia nut tree that the bees love. It gives us more macadamia nuts than we can eat. We are able to store them for the entire year.
Most butterfly plants prefer full sun. However, the zebra longwing, prefers shade. The zebra longwing is the Florida state butterfly. We planted several passionfruit vines, which is their host plant. We put some of the passionfruit vines in full sun and a couple in the shade. The gulf fritillary also uses the passionfruit vine as their host plant, but they like it in full sun. A host plant is a type of plant that a butterfly will search out to deposit their eggs. Each butterfly species will have their own host plant. A nectar plant will be the plant that attracts, feeds and provides energy to the butterfly. Our butterfly garden borders our tennis court. We planted many, many vines on the court’s fencing to protect the butterflies from rain and wind. Hopefully the vines will provide some shade for the tennis court too.
We’ve planted a dutchman’s pipevine, several different types of passionvines, scarlet milkweeds , tropical salvias, necklace pods, a white and pink powderpuff tree, dune sunflowers, lots of firecrackers, firespikes, a Bahama cassia tree, a wild lime tree, several lion’s tails, a sweet almond bush, native wild petunias, a golden dewdrop tree, a sky vine, a Mexican flamevine, several Florida flamevines, coonties, blue-eyed grass, mimosas, green-eyed susans, tall red pentas (dwarfs don’t have nectar), tickseeds, and two coral honeysuckles. Whew…that’s a list. The butterfly garden won’t look sparse for long. We purchased all our butterfly plants from a local nursery called “Riverland Nursery“. They are extremely knowledgeable about butterfly plants for our area and specialize in providing them. They also hold free classes on the weekends for just about everything garden related.
I believe this baby caterpillar is a direct result of the monarch butterflies we released into the garden last week. It’s important to never use herbicides or insecticides on a butterfly garden. This caterpillar will eat the leaves of the scarlet milkweed which is its host plant. Scarlet milkweeds get red aphids on them. Their purpose is to control the milkweed population. I just squish them because I don’t want them around. Another solution would be to bring some ladybugs into your garden. Make sure you get baby ladybugs because adult ladybug’s will just fly away. They tickle when you release them. When the monarch caterpillars eat all the leaves off the scarlet milkweed it can be trimmed way back. It will sprout new leaves right away and get bushy just in time for the caterpillars to devour it again. The young caterpillars need the young, tender leaves to eat.
We are looking forward to watching our butterfly garden turn into a mature, full landscape. We plan on labeling our plants with our aluminum tags tomorrow. We’re going to add a few stepping-stones, a few Adirondack chairs and a picnic table to complete our project. Our plan is to spend the summer having a daily tea party and a picnic in our “mariposa garden” while we wait for our flying visitors.
Come grow with us!