People love butterflies. They are beautiful, fascinating creatures. Even people who don’t like bugs and other creepy crawly things tend to like butterflies. Gardeners often ask me which plants will attract more butterflies to their yard. There are certainly many plants that butterflies do love. However, adding a single plant may not be enough to draw in more than one or two occasional butterflies to your home. If you really want to see some butterflies, why not plant a butterfly garden?
As the name suggests, a butterfly garden is a themed garden designed to attract butterflies. Actually, it does more than that. A good butterfly garden creates a habitat for butterflies where they can live, raise families, start a butterfly career and practice their craft of being beautiful. It’s not that hard to make such a garden, and there are a number of benefits that come with it.
- Butterfly gardens tend to be full of flowers, beautiful flowers. Who doesn’t want more beautiful flowers?
- They tend to be organized in such a way as to have that flow, that lush landscaped appearance
- The flowers are usually the kinds of plants that grow well in your region of the country, since they are meant to attract the kinds of butterflies that live in your region. That means they will be hardy, and they will be easy to grow.
- You are providing much needed habitat for butterflies, a good thing since much of their natural habitat has been lost.
- You get to see more butterflies!
So what goes into a good butterfly garden?
If all you want to do is attract a few butterflies to your yard, all you really need is a few plants that they like, and they should come. To create a habitat, though, is a little like creating a master planned community. You need to provide food, shelter, a place for their kids to hang out, a place for the adults to hang out, and a community center. In short, you need to give them, not just a reason to visit, but a reason to stay.
Food for the adults. When people think of plants that attract butterflies, this is what they are thinking about – plants that produce the flower and nectar butterflies like to eat. There are a number of plants that fit into this category, from trees to shrubs to perennials to annuals. Unlike hummingbirds, who hover in front of the flower and sip nectar while in mid air, butterflies prefer to land on the flower they are drinking. Butterfly bushes are a good start. They have long spikes or panicles of flowers. A single panicle can feed a lot of butterflies. Lobelieas, verbenas, asters, Autumn Joy sedum, coneflowers, zinnias and milkweed are also good choices.
- Food for the young. Butterflies need to have plants where they can lay their eggs and where the young caterpillars can feed. Unlike the adults, who sip nectar from flowers, caterpillars like to graze on leafy plants. Some good examples of vegetable crops for the younglings are alfalfa, milkweed, clover, mustard, cabbage and willow.
- A community drinking hole. Butterflies need water. If you provide it, they won’t have to leave your yard to go in search of it. A birdbath can be used just as easily for the butterflies. It doesn’t have to be raised up on a pedestal like a bird bath, either, since butterflies are not usually the prey of local cats. Two or three small stone bowls placed around the garden can provide the butterflies with the perfect little ponds for drinking and bathing.
- A place to hang out. Butterflies like to sun themselves, especially after a bath. After all, those wings don’t work as well when they are wet. So, they like to stand on flat rocks and gently air their wings in the sunshine. A few decorative rocks can suit their needs and add some visual variety to your garden. These also give you an ideal place to watch for butterflies.
- Location of the garden. The butterfly garden should be in a place that gets at least 6 hours of sun per day. Most of the plants butterflies enjoy need at least this much sun, and the little critters themselves will appreciate the sun. It’s also a good idea to make sure your garden is getting hit by the sprinkler system at least once a week, to keep the plants watered, but also to add water to the baths.
- And of course, you want the garden to be in a place where you will be able to enjoy it. So, it should be close to the house, and where you can see it easily any time you want. A front border by the entrance, or an island in the middle of the yard might work. Or, if you have an outdoor sitting area in the backyard, place the garden nearby. Butterflies are not quite so skittish of people as birds are, so you can sit nearby without scaring them away.
- One thing that should never go into your butterfly garden is pesticides! A butterfly garden that uses pesticides is not a habitat, it’s a trap.
Do you have a butterfly garden at your home? Post a comment below and include a link to some pictures!