AMES, Iowa – As winter has given way to spring, insects have begun to reappear in lawns and gardens across the state. Attracting insects such as butterflies or bees is a simple process that can add beauty to any outdoor space.
Providing a place for butterflies and other pollinators to comfortably live not only helps beautify a garden, but also works to promote the growth of species that are threatened and in decline.
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach publication “Gardening for Butterflies and Pollinators” (RG 0601) discusses how to create butterfly gardens by planting a few of the insect’s favorite plants in a sunny corner of the yard. It is available online at the Extension Store.
The publication was written by Laura Jesse, director and insect diagnostician in the Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic at Iowa State University; Nathan Brockman, curator for the Butterfly Wing at Reiman Gardens in Ames; and Donald Lewis, professor and extension entomologist at Iowa State University.
“Flowers that provide pollen and nectar are great additions to any garden and are a huge benefit to butterflies and bees,” Jesse said. “Monarch butterfly adults will feed on many types of flowers but they need milkweed to lay eggs on and for their caterpillars to eat. If we want the pretty adults we have to feed the kids!”
The publication lists specific plants for attracting various species of butterflies and moths, as well as the host plants where caterpillars will feed. Other garden habitat suggestions include offering shelter for protection, moisture for drinking and rocks for warmth. Gardeners should also avoid insecticides and herbicides that can be detrimental to the insects.
ISU Extension and Outreach is also working to help grow the monarch butterfly population through its work with the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium. The Consortium, which was founded in 2015 and includes representatives from Iowa State and other agencies and organizations from across the state, has planted over 10,000 milkweed seedlings at all 12 ISU Research and Demonstration Farms.
“Because Iowa is part of the breeding range for monarchs, planting milkweed for the caterpillars and nectar-producing flowers for the adults is a priority of Iowa State entomologists,” said Jesse. “By creating habitat for butterflies and pollinators, everyone can make their backyards or roadsides an oasis for these important insects.”
Jesse Randall, assistant professor and extension forester at Iowa State, has also released a series of short videos on beekeeping. The series of nine videos covers a wide variety of topics, helping producers learn how to begin the process of beekeeping, how to handle the bees and ultimately harvest their honey.
“When I started beekeeping seven years ago the learning curve for me was quite steep,” Randall said. “There was a lot of information available but I didn’t know what to trust. These videos will take a new beekeeper and help get them into the business the right way.”
Working with bees can be intimidating, and the videos are designed to provide tips and suggestions for many different aspects of working in an apiary.
“Honey bees are quite gentle if you work around them, they force you to be calm and quiet,” Randall said. “They are also a great source of local food; there isn’t enough honey available to keep up with demand. It’s good to know where your food is coming from and how it is being handled; you can’t always get that at the grocery store.”
PHOTO: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail by Adam Varenhorst, entomology research associate, Iowa State University