Aside from their obvious usefulness as pollinators, butterflies are lighter-than-air creatures that bring magic to the garden and lighten visitors’ hearts.
Though butterflies are not as quick and busy as bees, they are just as important when it comes to pollination. Butterflies are beautiful additions to any garden and gardeners the world over yearn for their appearance.
Unfortunately, butterflies are not as fickle as they are whimsical. Their antics might appear random, but butterflies are all business. Each butterfly that passes is in search of a hearty meal and a good place to spend the night.
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How to Make a Butterfly Garden
To draw in butterflies, a garden must first meet certain criteria.
- A butterfly garden must be free of pesticides. (Never use pesticides in a butterfly garden and never place a butterfly garden near property boundaries where neighbors use pesticides.)
- A butterfly garden must also be sheltered from the wind.
- Butterfly gardens must be built in areas that get full sun. Because butterflies are insects, they are cold-blooded creatures and depend on the sun as their heat source. Because rocks, cement slabs, stone tiles or pebbles retain the sun’s heat, they are important in a butterfly garden. Butterflies spend about half their day sunning themselves on rocks that are sheltered from the wind. A butterfly garden that has large rocks as well as small rocks will attract more butterflies.
- Another must is water—preferably shallow water or muddy water. Butterflies will drink at the edge of a garden pond or bird bath, but because nutrients are actually sipped from puddles, it’s also wise to include a few shallow depressions within the butterfly garden, in and around the flowers, where water can collect. Puddling is the butterfly’s method of ingesting certain minerals and nutrients, and is thought to be important for reproduction.
- Finally, a butterfly garden must include a wide variety of butterfly garden flowers, those which butterflies typically feed on, as well as host plants for their young. Since many butterflies differ in their needs, specific information for different locations around the United States is important when it comes to the correct feeding plants and hosts plants.
Butterfly Gardens Attract a Variety of Butterflies
Some of the most common North American butterflies include a variety of swallowtails, viceroys, and monarchs, as well as the question mark, comma, sulphur, painted lady and mourning cloak. Some butterflies feed on the same flowers, but some have very different tastes.
So, though there are hundreds of types of butterflies, it’s important to stick with garden flowers that butterflies in your local would feed on. Don’t make the mistake of trying to lure in exotic butterflies and ignore the local population.
It’s always possible to add a few other types of flowers, of course, but for an authentic butterfly garden, it’s best to stay true to the butterfly garden flowers that are suggested for each different location.
Most butterflies like nectar plants such as the butterfly bush, lilacs, coneflowers, sage, snapdragons, sunflowers and zinnias. Some host plants include parsley and carrot as well as thistle and wild milkweed.
Try to plant flowers in patterns that offer continuous blooms, both for adult butterflies and for the caterpillars. Water the butterfly garden in the late evening when butterflies have already found lodging for the night, and then only on a very fine mist to prevent harming caterpillars or butterflies that might have crawled into the foliage for the night.
On hot days, a fine mist sprayed gently across the garden once or twice can provide a nice reprieve.
Best Butterfly Gardens
The best butterfly flower gardens will have everything a butterfly needs to remain healthy, reproduce, and find shelter when needed.
Because caterpillars are voracious eaters, and because they require different plants than the adult butterfly, it’s important that enough host butterfly garden flowers are planted. Planting the flowers in clusters that will mature at different times will ensure that the butterflies easily find the garden, and also that they always find a bite to eat.
A butterfly garden that is created in a sunny area, with a reliable source of water and ample sunning rocks, as well as some type of shelter from the elements, will be too enticing for a butterfly to pass by.