What is a Butterfly Garden?
The Butterfly Effect for your Garden
Frosted Elfin, Empress Leilia and Sunrise Skipper sound like fairy names from a mystical land, and, in a way they are just that. They're names of real fluttering flower fairies: the butterflies.
Butterflies are the ultimate garden accent. They delight the gardener with their carefree flutter and brighten the garden with their golden wings, all the time adding a touch of flower fairy magic to the yard.
Why not invite more butterflies to your garden this year? It's easy to do if you follow the steps outlined below. I must warn you though: once you do, you'll be hooked. Butterflies have a captivating way about them. Once a butterfly gardener, always a butterfly gardener.
"But these are flowers that fly..."
~Robert Frost, Blue-Butterfly Day
What's a Butterfly Garden
And why would I want one?
The North American Butterfly Association states that within any given region in the U.S. no less than 100 butterfly species can be found. A butterfly garden is a way to prepare your garden to entice these wonderful creatures to your yard.
Butterflies have specific needs. By studying their habitat preferences, nectar needs and egg-laying habits, it's easy to know how to properly equip your yard to accommodate them.
By providing readily available nectar flowers and host plants in the safe environment of your garden, you are not only acquiring a fancy show of flying flowers, but also helping to sustain the butterfly population.
How Should I Plan a Butterfly Garden? - Butterflies have specific tastes & needs.
Painted Lady on Coneflower
And what are they looking for?
~First they are searching for their favorite nectar sources. Each species fancies different flowers.
~Next they want the perfect first meal for their hatchlings. Caterpillars have voracious appetites, and, just like many kids, they're extremely picky eaters. So like any good mom, these butterflies search for just the perfect egg-worthy plants.
~Not only does the plant have to be just the right one, it also needs to be in the perfect location. They want to find a spot that will be safe for their eggs; one that is sheltered from the elements. Gardens with a hedgerow to act as a wind break are prized to the butterfly.
It's easy to entice butterflies to your garden if you provide these three basic needs:
1. Nectar Flowers
Provide blooms for your butterflies throughout late spring to early fall.
2. Host Plants
Provide proper host plant for caterpillars.
3. Butterfly-Friendly Environment
A garden that is pesticide free, has shrubbery for hiding spots and windbreaks, and lots of sunshine is the most butterfly-friendly.
Nectar Plants - Flower favorites of butterflies
The best planned butterfly garden has flowers blooming from late spring to early fall. Since butterflies are most active in late summer, your garden should have the most color then. It's a good idea to plant both perennials and annuals to keep the garden at a constant bloom. Try to stagger bloom time to keep the blossoms going continuously.
A butterfly doesn't see color the way we do. They see ultra violet light. They do tend to favor yellow, light pink and light purple shades and are also attracted to reds and purples.
They are also a bit near-sighted, so to get your nectar flowers noticed, do plant large groupings of flowers rather than single one.
Butterflies love the sun, so your plants should be sun-loving also.
It seems flowers with many florets, as in the Lantana above, are a favorite of butterflies.
If you want information on a specific butterfly's preference, please check the links at the bottom of the page. Here's a list of a few butterfly nectar favorites:
Anise Hyssop, Aster, Black-eyed Susan, Buddleia, Butterfly Bush, Butterfly Weed, Coneflower, Coreopsis, Cosmos, Joe Pye Weed, Fennel, Grape Hyacinth, Lantana, Lavender, Marigold, Mexican Sunflower, Phlox, Salvia, Thistle, Verbena, Violet, Zinnia
By the way, did you know that not all butterflies elect to dine on the nectar of flowers? Some have very strange and unsavory dining habits. More on that below.
Host Plants - Favorite snacks of caterpillars
Monarch Caterpillar's Host Plant, Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Butterflies are careful to find these host plants for egg laying. They will not linger long in your garden if the right host plants are not available.
Provide egg-worthy plants and your butterflies will return each year.
Caterpillar-Approved Host Plants - Know the egg-worthy plants for your butterflies.
Monarch caterpillar on Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
The caterpillar breaks out of its egg with a voracious appetite and immediately begins snacking on its host plant. It's a good thing this little guy's mom took the time to find just the right spot for his arrival.
Below is a short list of a few common caterpillars and their host plants. Notice some only approve of one plant. If there is a particular species of butterfly you want to attract, do some research and discover the caterpillar's host plant. (Links provided at the bottom of page)
The only way to the butterfly's heart is through the host plant!
Common Caterpillars and their Host Plants
A butterfly garden should have plants that
attract butterflies - (Nectar Plants)
caterpillars - (Host Plants)
Butterfly-Friendly Environments - How to make your garden welcoming to butterflies
Along with the necessary nectar and host plants, your garden should be a safe and butterfly-friendly place. Here are a few tips for making your yard more attractive to the butterfly:
- Mind Your Chemicals
Avoid using harsh chemicals and insecticides near your butterfly garden. They have an adverse effect on these fragile creatures.
- Plant in Full Sun
Butterflies depend on the sun to keep them warm. Your garden will need to have full sun for a good period of time. (4-6 hours)
Place large, smooth stones in your garden for sunning spots..
- Provide Windbreaks and Hide Outs
Butterflies don't like fighting the wind. On windy or stormy days, they want to rest in a protected area. Hedgerows that form windbreaks are perfect for a butterfly garden. A windbreak on three sides of your garden is ideal. If you select shrubbery or trees that are also host or nectar plants it is doubly good.
They also like mulch, rock, shrubbery and trees for hiding away from wind or bad weather.
- Make a Butterfly Puddle
Your guests will certainly appreciate a place for puddling! A puddle in your garden will allow them to easily get the essential salts and minerals they need without ever leaving your yard.
- Provide a Supplemental Food Source
Not all butterflies flock to the flowers for their nectar. Some appreciate the stinky juices of over ripe fruit. Why not try leaving some out for these fruit lovers? You may also want to try a butterfly feeder as a supplemental food source. Just remember to keep it clean and replace the sugar syrup daily.
Butterfly Garden Accessories
More Butterfly Shelters and Dining Stations
Butterfly Buffet - Extra snacks for the winged vsitors
Some, such as this Caligo or owl butterfly, pictured above, prefer to forgo the dainty flowers and dine on the juice of smelly, rotten fruit.
Some butterflies prefer to sip the sap from trees.
The Harvester butterfly catches aphids and sucks out its juicy fluids.
Others' taste are even more crude, and just down right disgusting. It's an amazing sight to behold a beautiful creatures such as the Tawny Emperor in action. It's a paradox of nature. Their nectar of preference? Dung juice.
Butterfly Snack Recipes - Special suppliments for the butterfly buffet
Having a good variety of blossoms throughout the summer is the best way to entice butterflies to your garden. Once they have found your special spot, keep them coming back with a few extra goodies on the butterfly buffet.
- Butterfly Cocktail Recipe
This recipe is 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. It's the same as hummingbird feeder solution. Please, never add color to the sugar water
Boil 1 cup water. Add 1 cup sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Add 3 cups cold water stir. Recipe is 4 parts water to 1 part sugar.
You can store this in the refrigerator.
Add this solution to a butterfly feeder.
- Homemade Butterfly Feeder
This homemade butterfly feeder is simple to make. A colorful sponge attracts the butterfly and provides the perfect landing spot as it holds sweet sugar water in all its pores.
Use one sanitized*, new sponge in a bright color. Place in shallow dish. Pour Butterfly Cocktail (sugar water) on sponge to wet completely. Place near butterfly feeding flowers. Ideal spot is higher than the flowers making it easier for the butterflies to discover it. For example, hang it from the limb of a small tree.
Remove sponge, rinse and add new Cocktail daily.
*Hint: Sanitize sponge by wetting and placing in microwave for 1 minute. Allow to completely cool.
- Rotting Fruit Tray
What guest wouldn't adore this? While not all butterflies go for this stinky fruit, it's a favorite for most varieties of Owl butterflies, the Tawny Emperor and the Hackberry Emperor, just to name a few.
In a shallow dish or plate, place ripe, sliced fruit; bananas, apples, grapes are all Butterfly approved.
Add a small amount of stale beer* over the fruit to give the brew an extra kick. You can substitute the beer for a small portion of sugar water (recipe below)
*Hint: Make stale beer by pouring a glass of beer, drink 3/4. Leave remainder of the glass on counter overnight. You just made stale beer.
Social Butterflies - Butterfly puddling activities
Lemon Emigrants and Swallowtails Puddling
Butterflies often can be seen on the perimeter of small creeks, near rain puddles on sandy trails or in garden mud puddles. This activity is called puddling. They're sipping the water from these shallow pools to take in extra salt and minerals not provided in their nectar diets. Males need these extra ingredients to provide stronger sperm.
If you want to further enhance your butterfly garden, provide a spot for puddling. You can make a shallow mud puddle (not deep for the butterfly) right in your garden.
Another method is to use a shallow pan, such as a flower pot tray, or a bird bath, and fill it with sand. Add a few flat stones for perching and fill with water until sand is saturated, but not covered with water. Keep your butterfly puddle wet at all time. Give it time, and they will find it. Don't forget to fill it often in the summer. Rain water is best!
- The Butterfly Website - Moth and Butterfly List
A fabulous listing of butterflies and moths for many countries. For the U.S.you can narrow your search down to state county to find the moths and butterflies native to your region.
- The Butterfly Website - Listing of Nectar and Host Plants
This link offers an extensive list of preferred plants for specific butterflies and and moths.
- North American Butterfly Association - List of Butterfly Names
Common and scientific names of butterflies of North America are listed. You won't believe how many species of butterflies there are! ( approx. 575 in the US and 275 in Canada)
- Why You Should Never Have a Butterfly Release
This page from the N American Butterfly Association explains why butterfly releases are not a good idea. Butterfly releases at weddings or elementary schools can be magical, but they can be far more harmful than you think! Please don't do it!
I hope you'll try a butterfly garden. - Here are some great books to help you get started.
It's easy to start a butterfly garden. If you want to learn more about butterflies, here are some great resources.
Butterfly Garden Bling
Add your own butterfly garden accents. The real ones won't mind at all.
The butterfly counts
and has time enough.