Brightly colored butterflies are a welcome addition to your wildlife garden, not only because of their beauty, but also because of their usefulness in pollinating flowers.
Attracting butterflies involves incorporating plants that serve the needs for all life stages of the butterfly. Adult butterflies need flowering plants that supply nectar sources, and we have many to choose from. Most importantly though, they need specific food plants on which they lay their eggs and the resulting larvae (caterpillars) feed upon. Butterflies require these specific plants in order to reproduce, and these plants are therefore highly attractive to them. The added benefit of planting larval food plants is the opportunity to witness the miraculous process of metamorphosis.
Butterfly Garden Necessities
Plant native flowering and larval food plants - Because many butterflies and native plants have co-evolved over time and depend on each other for survival and reproduction, it is particularly important to install native flowering plants local to your geographic area. Native plants provide butterflies with the nectar or foliage they need as adults and caterpillars.
Plant good nectar sources in the sun - Your key butterfly nectar source plants should receive full sun from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Butterfly adults generally feed in the sun. If sun is limited in your landscape, seek out shade to part sun plants or try a container garden in a sunny part of your yard.
Plant for continuous bloom - Butterflies need nectar throughout the adult phase of their life span. Try to plant so that when one plant stops blooming, another begins.
Say no to insecticides - Insecticides are marketed to kill insects. Don't use harmful materials in or near the butterfly garden or better, anywhere on your property. Even "benign" insecticides, such as Bacillus thuringiensis, are lethal to butterflies (while caterpillars).
Feed butterfly caterpillars - If you don't feed caterpillars, there will be no adults. Bringing caterpillar food into your garden can greatly increase your chances of attracting unusual and uncommon butterflies, while giving you yet another reason to plant an increasing variety of native plants.
Provide a place for butterflies to rest - Butterflies need sun for orientation and to warm their wings for flight. Place flat stones in your garden to provide space for butterflies to rest and bask in the sun.
Give them a place for puddling - Butterflies often congregate on wet sand and mud to partake in "puddling," drinking water and extracting minerals from damp puddles. Place coarse sand in a shallow pan and then insert the pan in the soil of your habitat. Make sure to keep the sand moist.
Photos below show an example of a butterfly garden at installation stage and in full bloom. Photos by J. Langley.
Click below for information about Native Nurseries' Butterfly Rearing Cage. It's a fun butterfly project for the whole family or classroom!