Butterfly Gardening Ideas, Tips, and Techniques
Starting a butterfly garden can be as simple as choosing flowering plants that will invite adult butterflies to your garden to feed. If you want to make a butterfly garden that will act as a sanctuary, attracting a wide variety of butterflies while providing a place where butterflies can grow, you will first need simple planning. By bearing in mind which plants to grow and evaluating your garden site, you can plant a butterfly garden that will help with the creation of more butterflies. Butterfly gardens are a great way to bring color and life into your yard.
A Step by Step Guide for Butterfly Gardening
Butterfly gardening technique is the best option to improve, create, and maintain habitat for lepidopterans including skippers, butterflies, and moths. Butterflies have four distinct life stages are egg, chrysalis, larva, and adult. To sustain and support butterfly populations, an ideal butterfly garden contains a habitat for each life stage. Butterfly gardening is more than just an aesthetic choice to bring color to your garden. Butterflies act as pollinators and can greatly benefit the health of your garden plants.
What is a Butterfly Garden?
Butterfly gardens are full-sun gardens that are planted with plants that attract butterflies. These plants are usually nectar-producing flowers. Nectar-producing flowers are generally beautiful, so you have the double benefit of attracting butterflies and adding beauty to your yard.
Butterfly gardens range from small ones consisting of just a few planters or pots, to large elaborately planned spaces. Butterflies are present in almost every region of the world, so with the right plants, virtually any spot can become a haven for them.
Pick a Location for Butterfly Gardens
While butterflies are attracted to sunny areas, it’s also a good idea to situate the containers near a wall to block wind and shelter the insects if needed. Keep in mind that the same plants that attract butterflies often attract bees and other stinging insects, so consider placing your butterfly garden away from play areas.
For optimal growth and butterfly attraction, there are a few requirements to keep in mind as you choose the location for your butterfly garden. Let’s look at each factor in a little more depth;
Full Sun – Butterflies thrive in the sun and the plants that attract them are typically plants that require lots of sunlight. When choosing your location, look for an area where there will be plenty of sun throughout the day.
Pesticide-Free – While you might not consider a butterfly to be a pest, the same probably isn’t true for pesticides. Most pesticides kill or repel butterflies. Organic growing methods are the best choice for a butterfly garden. Select an area where pest control isn’t necessary or where you can limit your use of chemicals.
Protections from Wind – Butterflies are very delicate and like sunny areas with very little wind. By creating a sheltered garden you will attract more butterflies. You can create a sheltered area in more than one way. Some gardeners choose to build barricades or fences around the outskirts of their gardens.
Butterfly houses look like wooden blocks punctuated with tall, narrow slots, presumably to shelter butterflies from predators and bad weather. The butterfly house is more likely to become the future home of a paper wasp colony than it is to shelter butterflies.
Butterflies do need shelter from wind and rain, but you don’t need a fancy shingled house to protect them. Take your cue from nature, and provide them with a simple log pile in a corner of the yard. Butterflies will use this natural shelter to roost at night, or even to hibernate over the winter. In addition to the spaces between logs, small butterflies can creep between gaps in the bark.
Get to Know Your Soil for Butterfly Gardening
Before you can choose your plants, you need to become friends with your soil. Most butterfly plants thrive in soil that drains well and is rich in organic matter. Adding compost will boost the soil structure and add the nutrients necessary for plants to thrive. Standard practice is to add 3 inches of compost to the top of your soil and mix it into about the top 8 inches of soil. If your soil is particularly difficult to balance, consider a raised bed garden.
Steps in Butterfly Gardening
Step 1) Select Site for Butterfly Gardening
Choose a site that has some sun but is also sheltered from the wind. Include a few trees and shrubs for roosting at night and for cooling off on the hottest days.
Step 2) Remember the Rocks
Add one or two large rocks in the sun so butterflies have a place to bask when mornings are cool.
Step 3) Provide Water for Butterfly Gardening
Since butterflies cannot drink from open water, provide them with a “puddle” by filling a container, such as an old birdbath, with wet sand where they can perch and drink safely.
Step 4) Add the Plants for Butterfly Gardening
Add nectar plants, including aster, black-eyed Susan, butterfly bush, butterfly weed, cosmos, ironweed, Joe-Pye weed, phlox, purple coneflower, sedum, and zinnia. Include food plants for the larvae, including dill, fennel, milkweed, and parsley. Different butterfly larvae feed on different plants, so the butterflies native to your region to choose what to plant. Keep in mind Butterfly larvae are caterpillars. Learn to distinguish the larvae of butterflies you’re trying to attract from pest species. Reducing the use of pesticides to protect butterfly larvae and adults.
Plant Selection for Butterfly Gardening
Many flowering plants will attract butterflies, but not all flowers are created equally in the compound eyes of a butterfly. Selecting plants that will feed butterflies while also encouraging them to stick around for a while, laying eggs and creating a new generation of butterflies, is your goal. You have to select plants that fall into two groups: nectar plants that will provide adult butterflies with energy and caterpillar food plants that will feed caterpillars. With a careful selection from these two groups, your garden will provide for the entire life cycle of butterflies.
Some of the plants that attract butterflies are purple coneflowers, yellow coneflowers, sunflowers, marigolds, poppies, cosmos, salvias, some lilies, asters, coreopsis, daisies, verbenas, lantanas, milkweed (particularly for the monarch butterfly, whose caterpillars feed solely on this plant), the butterfly bush, zinnias, porter weeds, and others. And, avoid cultivars of plants that have “double flowers” as these can be difficult for butterflies to access. Care must be taken to research a species, to make sure it is not invasive in a given region.
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Popular butterfly perennials include milkweed, hyssop, coneflowers, Liatris, and asters. Shrubs add a structure to the landscape while nourishing butterflies, so include some viburnum, elderberry, and sweet spire. These shrubs and plants all thrive in full sun, which butterflies need to maintain their metabolism. Best plants for Butterfly gardening are;
Yarrow – Yarrow is a must-have perennial for every butterfly garden. Yarrow’s lush, lively blooms rise above its delightful ferny foliage and provide the perfect resting place for travelling butterflies.
Aster – With their full stems and rich, vibrant blooms, asters are practically guaranteed to catch the eye of any passing flyer-by! These lovely perennials are the perfect accessory to a colourful, low-maintenance butterfly garden. Asters grow best when planted in well-drained soil and full sun. They’re drought-resistant and especially easy to grow.
Pipe Vine – A popular vine with gardeners for its large leaves and bizarre meerschaum pipe-like flowers, Pipe Vine is also popular with the bizarre and colourful Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar as a host plant.
Angelica – Angelica is in the carrot family, and if you have ever seen butterflies go all a-flutter for its relatives – carrot, Queen Anne’s lace, dill, or fennel, and then you will understand why they also like this lacy-flowered beauty.
Yarrow – Colourful, large flower clusters make Achillea a great plant for butterfly gardens. The frilly foliage is very fern-like and adds a nice texture to the border.
Phlox – There are a wide variety of phlox colors to choose from for your butterfly garden…just make sure you pick ones that are also mildew resistant.
Butterfly Bush – Wondering which flower garners the most attention from winged visitors? Look no farther than butterfly bush. This bright, colorful shrub stands out in the landscape and draws butterflies in with its nectar-filled blooms. Butterfly bush is good for feeding hungry butterflies, but you will love its bold colors and sweet fragrance. Butterfly bush grows best in well-drained soil and full sun.
Centaurea – Centaurea is also called mountain bluets or bachelor’s buttons, is a zealous nectar producer that draws butterflies in droves. Carefree and spirited, Centaurea grows well in well-drained soil and full sun. It blooms May through June, holding up against heat and drought so butterflies can enjoy your garden for as long as possible.
Coreopsis – You’ll have sunshine on cloudy days with radiant coreopsis flowers sprinkled throughout your garden. The plant’s bright colors attract butterflies and Coreopsis grows best in well-drained soil and full sun.
Coneflower – A favorite among birds, bees, and butterflies, coneflower is often the main attraction in backyard butterfly gardens. Coneflowers grow best in well-drained soil and full sun, but they can also hold up to heat, humidity, and drought.
Blanket Flower – The blanket flower is the sassy senorita of spicy summer gardens. Named for its fiery colors and patterns mimicking those of traditional Mexican blankets, the blanket flower is the perfect pick for a butterfly garden. It grows best in well-drained soil, full sun, and warm summers.
Lavender – This beautiful perennial is popular with butterflies and people. Lavender grows best well-drained soil and full sun and thrives with minimal care. Growing lavender in your butterfly garden adds a heady scent and lovely blooms to your backyard.
Bee Balm – Bee balm’s exotic, fragrant blooms beckon butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds to your yard. These summer flowers bloom best in moist soil and full sun to part shade. This plant is deer-resistant, but it doesn’t like drought, so keep it moist. If deadheaded and regularly, bee balm rewards gardeners with weeks of flowers.
Penstemon – Penstemon, with its bright, bell-like flowers is sure to add a pleasant, delicate air to your garden. The lovely clusters of brilliant flowers appear in a wide range of colors that attract butterflies.
Salvia – With its resplendent blooms and no-fuss nature, salvia is a favorite with gardeners and butterflies. It thrives in average, well-drained soil in full sun, and blooms for weeks. Butterflies love salvia’s colorful spires. Salvia is a low-maintenance plant that tolerates deer, drought, and clay, making it the perfect choice for gardeners on the go.
Scabiosa– Scabiosa is also called a pincushion flower, is one of the loveliest choices for a butterfly garden.
Choose host plants where your butterflies can lay eggs
Once you identify the butterflies that are native to your area, research where they prefer to lay their eggs. Then, include those host plants when you’re planning what you want in your garden. While adult butterflies aren’t always picky about their sources of nectar, they are extremely particular about where they lay their eggs. That’s because butterflies usually lay their eggs on the plants that their larvae feed on, and that usually consists of only 1 or a very few specific plants. Adult butterflies typically lay their eggs on different plants than the ones they feed on themselves.
For example, a monarch butterfly will only lay her eggs on milkweed, since that is the only food a monarch caterpillar will eat. Black swallowtails prefer to lay their eggs on dill, parsley, fennel, and carrot.
Butterfly Nectar Plants
A butterfly needn’t be ready to lay eggs to visiting your garden. However, if you do want a steady stream of flutterers dropping by and saying hello, you will need to create a plant-based space in your garden that will attract them and their beauty.
The best way to do this is to place a host of nectar-producing plants in your garden and provide the critters with flowers that bloom throughout a given season. Ideally, you’ll want to have flowers that are in full bloom mid to late summer season, as this is when butterfly activity is at its peak.
There are dozens of floral options for you to choose from, any self-respecting nursery or garden centre should be able to point you in the right direction when you’re ready to buy the right flowers. Some of the popular flowers have names that make them pretty easy to spot such as Butterfly Weed or Butterfly Bush.
Avoid pesticides that harm butterflies
When it comes to pest control, butterfly gardeners must tread lightly. Most pesticides will harm or kill butterflies (as well as other beneficial pollinators like bees and parasitic wasps). Even organic pest control options like insect soap or neem oil can kill butterflies or disrupt their feeding and mating habits. However, this doesn’t mean you have to hand your flowers over to the aphids. Minimize pesticide effects by shielding flowers from sprays and powders. Only use pesticides to treat insect outbreaks, not as a preventative treatment. Finally, try non-pesticide insect controls, like floating row covers, jets of water to blast away small insects, and hand-picking for large insects like beetles.
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