Thursday, June 6, 2013

Butterfly Gardens and Summer Maintenance

This is the sixth article in a series on WILD School Sites, or outdoor classrooms. WILD School Sites are locations that can be used by students, teachers, and the school community as places to learn about wildlife and the environment. The first thing to do when developing a site is to formulate a plan. You can contact your district Wildlife Communication Specialist, who can walk you through the process to help ensure success.

So what type of project should you do?

Remember, no two sites are the same, so each site will consist of different projects. Available resources, such as time, money, space, and labor, will also play a role in what projects are chosen. Last month’s article focused on ground preparation and planting warm season grasses. This month we will look at a few more projects for this time of year.

Oooh, look at all those pretty butterflies!

Butterfly gardens are a favorite for educators and students alike. However, planning a successful butterfly garden is more involved than simply picking a

Red-spotted purples like black cherry
and cottonwood trees and serviceberry shrubs.
 few plants with “butterfly” in the name. In order to ensure that butterflies are attracted to and stay at your garden, you need to provide the proper habitat for butterflies, just as you would any other animal. In addition, when planning your butterfly garden, use native flowering plants. These plants have co-evolved with butterflies and provide the food and foliage butterflies need. Native plants are also better adapted to local soils, pests, and weather conditions and require less maintenance and upkeep.

Tiger Swallowtails prefer a variety of trees
and will also lay on lilac bushes.

So what is butterfly habitat? Well, each species of butterfly has different requirements; however, all butterflies do need both host plants and the nectar producing plants which are more often promoted. The host plants serve as larval food for the caterpillars and are species specific. Information on host plant requirements can be found in most butterfly books, including the Butterfly and Skipper Field Guide provided by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. Nectar producing plants provide food and attract butterflies. When choosing nectar plants try to select plants that bloom throughout the season.

Is this a monarch? Go to the field guide
 link above to find out for sure!

In addition to host and nectar plants, butterflies need shelter, just as any other animal does. A row of shrubs or trees can protect butterflies from strong winds. Many species of trees and bushes are host plants, and can serve a dual purpose.

School is out for the summer…now what?

As the last school bell rings each year, both students and teachers can be seen scrambling for the doors. But what about the WILD School sites? Many of the newly planted shrubs, trees, and flowers need extra attention during their first year, particularly during the hot and dry summer. What about weeds. You don’t want to return in September needing a machete to find your way through the garden.

Proper planning really can go a long way toward minimizing maintenance requirements. Using native plants, which are better adapted to local environments and conditions, goes a long way. In addition, using weed barriers and mulches also help significantly. In the end, though, someone will need to occasionally visit the site in the summer to perform some routine maintenance and watering.

To begin, this doesn’t have to fall upon one person. Some schools find it beneficial to split the duty up with schedules. Classrooms or families can sign up to be responsible for watering and weeding for a few days or a week. A bike ride to visit the site is a great way for families to spend a summer evening. Soaker hoses not only minimize water usage, but are relatively cheap and make watering simple.

A Final Thought

Although most WILD School Sites contain multiple projects that can take years to develop from start to finish, now is the time to get some plantings in. As the weather begins to turn from warm to hot, don’t let everyone’s hard work wither away. A summer schedule gets students off the couch and back outside. For more information about these projects or other WILD School Site projects, contact your district’s Wildlife Communications Specialist.