Who among us has not at one time or another stared in awe at butterflies enjoying nature’s bounty?
One of the best ways to increase the number and variety of these beautiful and essential creatures is to plant a butterfly garden.
And it’s easier than you might think — simply grow the plants that both caterpillars and adult butterflies like to feed on.
Did you know that an estimated one-third of the human food supply depends on plant pollination by butterflies, bees and birds? So the role of pollinator is critical.
But some butterfly species are being threatened. By improper use of pesticides. By habitat loss or degradation. And by disease and competition from non-native species.
This decline can ultimately result in a disruption of whole ecosystems. Planting a butterfly garden can help ensure that these lovely and graceful creatures will continue to provide us with this essential service.
In order to attract butterflies to your garden, you must provide them with plants for caterpillars to feed on.
They’ll also need large clumps of sun-loving flowers to provide nectar for the adults.
You’ll want to plant your butterfly garden in a location that receives at least five to six hours of sun each day.
Butterflies are cold-blooded creatures and need the sun to warm themselves.
The garden spot must also be sheltered from the wind; butterflies won’t want to feed in an area where they are constantly fighting the wind to stay on the plants. The south-facing side of a house or wall would be perfect.
It’s also a good idea to place a few flat stones in a sunny spot of the garden, where the butterflies can rest while warming up.
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In general, adult butterflies are particularly attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink and purple blossoms that are flat-topped or clustered and have short flower tubes.
Here are some of the most popular plants that fit the bill:
Butterfly bush is a shrub that’s typically covered in butterflies all summer long.
An easy-care shrub, it features fragrant flowers in shades of blue, purple, and white. The bush can grow to be 10 feet tall and 15 feet wide, so you may want to prune it back in winter or early spring.
This hardy shrub can be pruned almost down to the ground.
Butterfly weed, a species of milkweed, is a prairie plant with bright orange flowers and a long bloom time that’s sure to attract Monarchs.
The adults drink nectar from the plant’s summertime flowers, and the caterpillars feed on the plant’s leaves.
Once established, you can expect flowers in waves from June to early September.
The aster is another butterfly-attracting plant that performs double duty: The blossoms supply nectar for fall butterflies, and caterpillars feed on the plant’s leaves.
These heavy bloomers provide colorful flowers in shades of blue, purple, pink, and red. Most have yellow centers.
Asters require full sun for the most part, and some species will bloom from spring until frost. They are a must-have in every butterfly garden.
The Mexican sunflower is big and bold — and butterflies love it.
It’s an easy-care annual that will provide a nonstop display of large orange flowers all summer long.
Plant it from seed directly in the ground and watch it reach up five feet in height in just weeks.
Its showy flowers in sunset colors are irresistible to butterflies, and attractive to hummingbirds and bees, as well.
Black-Eyed Susan is just as perfect for bouquets as it is for butterflies.
This tough perennial blooms in late summer with big, yellow, daisy-shaped flowers. This easy-growing plant can get up to 3 feet tall and blooms well into the fall.
It’s great for borders, mass plantings, or backgrounds. It grows quite well in sun or partial shade.
Average soil is sufficient for black-eyed Susans, but be sure the soil can hold moisture fairly well.
Another annual, the ever-popular zinnia, is a favorite of butterfly gardeners, as well. It blooms in an almost endless range of colors and looks great all summer long.
To attract the most butterflies, you’ll want to plant lots of tall red or hot pink zinnias in a large patch.
Butterflies need water just like we do, and there are several ways of providing it in your butterfly garden:
Above all, butterflies are highly sensitive to pesticides…so DO NOT USE PESTICIDES IN YOUR BUTTERFLY GARDEN.
This cannot be stressed strongly enough. Pesticides such as malathion, Sevin, and diazinon are designed to kill insects. Do not use these materials in or near the butterfly garden. (Even better, don’t use them at all.)
Even so-called “benign” insecticides, such as Bacillus thuringiensis, are lethal to butterflies in the caterpillar stage.
For information on natural ways to to keep bugs away that don’t involve harming butterflies and other pollinators, visit the DIY Natural website.
Need a little more inspiration for planting a butterfly garden? Check out this video clip of the amazing annual migration of monarchs:
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“The best friend on earth of man is the tree: when we use the tree respectfully and economically we have one of the greatest resources of the earth.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright