Butterflies are pretty, but are also very good at messing up even the most manicured garden.
Kids, and their parents, who want to plant a butterfly garden to attract these pollinators will first want to learn about the insect and see the landscape from its perspective.
Butterflies view their favorite flowers as landing pads and view other plants as safe havens to lay their eggs.
Caterpillars will treat the garden as their own playground, using plants like monkey-bars climbing all around and leaving foliage chewed up.
In the end, butterflies are so colorful; a garden to attract these pollinators may look dull in comparison to the decorative wings flying about.
Gardeners must be willing to give these butterflies what they need to grow and thrive and to allow these pollinators a place to simply be.
The life cycle of a butterfly starts in an egg, moves on to the creeping crawling larva most of us call a caterpillar. Then it is on to the pupa, also called a chrysalis, and affectionately thought of as a cocoon. The adult emerges as a colorful winged insect.
Butterflies are nearsighted, so perhaps that is why they do not care whether a garden is cluttered with debris. But they do like bright bold colors; butterflies are especially attracted to red, orange, yellow and purple.
Butterflies will find gardens meant for them more easily when the same flowers are repeated. The “planting in mass” can be as narrow as a replicated long line in a small garden, or a wide swath across a large landscape.
Within a butterfly garden, these cold-blooded insects will need a protected place to warm-up when the weather is cool, and a place to cool off when the summer sun heats up.
A smooth flat rock set in an open space is perfect for basking in the sun, and an open area in a partly-shady location will work for cooling off on hot days.
Male butterflies in particular like puddle clubs. The males will gather around small puddles where rain has formed temporary pools of water. A shallow dish of sand then filled with fresh water will provide all butterflies with drinking water.
Any garden planted to specifically attract beneficial insects will not thrive where you use pesticides or insecticides. Chemicals used to kill unwanted insects are as effective against beneficial insects.
This includes chemicals from nearby, where wind-drift will bring toxic chemicals into a garden from a neighboring property.
Gardeners can minimize the danger of pesticides and insecticides by choosing a location for a butterfly garden shielded from strong winds and neighboring farmland.
Try creating a butterfly garden in the corner of an L-shaped building, or behind tall berms.
Building barriers against wind and storms with solid fences or thick plant material may help.
Host Plants For Caterpillar Food
Butterflies require two types of plants to provide for themselves and their offspring. In a true butterfly garden, both types of plants should be present.
The plants can be native species or hybrid plants, though complicated flower forms like double blooms are unnecessary.
An adult female butterfly will lay her eggs on the type of plant that she knows her babies, the emerging caterpillars, will eat.
Host plants range from annuals like snapdragons, alyssum, sunflowers and violets to perennials like milkweed, joe-pye weed, daisies, and hollyhocks.
Pussy willows are a host plant and work in moist environments.
The big trees like elm, birch, lilac and tulip tree may also act as host plants.
Herb plants are popular host plants; they are easily tucked in and around the garden.
The low profile of shorter herb plants also make them easy to hide as they become messy with laid eggs or chewed leaves taken for food.
Parsley, chives, dill, and fennel herbs are a few herbs that work well in butterfly gardens.
However, before deciding on which host plants should be in the garden, you’ll need to do a little research into the type of butterflies that travel in and about the local region.
Specific butterflies search for their favorite host plants. For example: anise swallowtail butterflies favor sweet fennel.
Gorgone checkers pot and painted lady butterflies both like sunflowers, but painted lady also likes thistle and hollyhocks. Monarch butterflies love milkweed and the black swallow tail appreciates dill and parsley.
Butterflies Drink from Nectar Plants
We often think of prairie and wildflowers when choosing plants for a butterfly garden.
The iconic purple coneflower is only one of a long list of perennial prairie flowers to add to a butterfly garden. But, with the wide selection of nectar plants, gardeners can create a personalized space for butterflies, even if your family doesn’t live in the Midwest.
Butterflies look for a landing pad, as depicted by a daisy, black-eyed Susan, sunflower or zinnia.
The list of acceptable flower forms is varied: Consider the iris, gladiolus, morning glory, or petunia for instance.
There are ornamental grasses of feather reed grass or switch grass and shrubs of lilac, dogwood, or butterfly bush from which to choose, too.
Building a Butterfly Garden
Building a butterfly garden is an ongoing process and over the years will ebb and flow as do all gardens. A butterfly garden, and its plants, may be as elaborate or simple as you and your kids desire, but will provide many moments of enjoyment. Your family will enjoy watching the butterflies as your garden provides valuable food to these beneficial insects that travel the world, and pollinate our planet.
Bailey, Stephanie. How to Make Butterfly Gardens. University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Accessed October 8, 2013.
Monarch Watch. Butterfly Gardening. Accessed October 8, 2013.
Lady Bird John Wildflower Center. Recommended Species Interactive Map. University of Texas at Austin. Accessed October 8, 2013.© Copyright 2013 Chris Eirschele, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Parenting