Create A Butterfly Garden that will beautify your landscape while providing habitat for pollinators.
Everyone will be captivated by watching butterflies in your garden!
Do you take pollinators for granted?
We happily plant our gardens, tenderly nurturing the plants and carefully tending to their soil, water and fertilizing needs, patiently awaiting the abundant harvest that nourishes both body and spirit.
But how often do you think about the pollinators?
Those industrious insects that visit the blossoms of our future harvest to gather nectar and pollen? Without them, we would have no harvest at all!
There is more at stake here than just our own gardens!
The North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) is concerned about what could happen if we don’t start paying more attention to pollinators:
"Today, possible declines in the health and population of pollinators pose a significant threat to the integrity of biodiversity, to global food webs, and to human health."
I’m not trying to scare you with that, I just want to raise your awareness. I just want to give you a little perspective on how important it is that we pay attention to pollinators, for our own gardens and the whole world.
If you’d like to learn more about just how critical pollinators are to the entire web of life, check out the NAPPC’s pollinator page.
You’ve probably heard about the declines in bee populations and all the problems they’ve been facing, but less attention has been paid to another critical group of pollinators – butterflies. So, if you could ensure the healthy pollination of your own garden by attracting butterflies to it and at the same time do your part to help these important pollinators, wouldn’t that make you feel great? Here’s what you need to know to get started:
I don’t know about you, but I just love butterflies.
My daughter, when she was about three called them flutterbyes because that’s exactly what they do – they flutter by on their search for flowers and the life-giving nectar they provide. Create a butterfly garden and enjoy the beauty of a varierty of pollinators.
But to best understand how to make your garden a butterfly haven, you need to know a little bit about the butterfly’s life cycle.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has a great Butterfly Gardening Fact Sheet that gives you all the basics on butterflies and what you can do to attract them. It mentions that a butterfly begins as an egg, which hatches into a caterpillar that needs to eat a lot food in preparation for turning into a butterfly.
The thing is, most butterflies will only lay their eggs on or near a very limited number of specific kinds of plants.
"If you want to be really successful at attracting butterflies to your garden, you need to pay attention not only to the nectar flowers on which butterflies feed, but also on the host plants that allow them to make more butterflies."
The caterpillar also needs a safe place to form its chrysalis, the cocoon in which it magically transforms into a beautiful butterfly. This can happen in a bush, tall grass, or even a pile of sticks and leaves, so be sure to have some of those items in or near your garden.
As organic gardeners, we don’t have to worry about harming butterflies by using any nasty chemical pesticides or insecticides, so we can go ahead and create a butterfly garden without the concern that we are going to be killing them off.
You also want to mostly use native plants. Why?
The US Forest Service has a great publication called Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden Using Native Plants. It says that
“Pollinators have evolved with native plants, which are best adapted to the local growing season, climate, and soils. Most pollinators feed on specific plant species… Non-native plants may not provide pollinators with enough nectar or pollen, or may be inedible to butterfly or moth caterpillars.”
In other words, the pollinators that live in our local communities will be happiest with local, native plants.
Now it’s time to take a look at specific plants you can use to attract butterflies to your garden. For this, I’m drawing mostly from the Butterflies and Moths of North America website.
The Goatweed Leafwing is a pretty little red-orange butterfly that actually feeds mostly on sap and rotting fruit, so no worries there if you have a compost pile! The preferred host plants include Goatweed (Croton capitatum), Texas croton (C. texensis), and prairie tea (C. monanthogynus); all in the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae).
The Question Mark is a lovely orange butterfly with black spots that will visit flowers such as common milkweed, aster and sweet pepperbush. Host plants include American elm (Ulmus americanus), red elm (Ulmus rubra), hackberry (Celtis), nettles (Urtica), and false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica)
The Viceroy is a monarch look-a-like that composites including aster, goldenrod, joe-pye weed and shepherd's needle. Preferred host plants include trees in the willow family (Salicaceae) including willows (Salix), poplars and cottonwoods (Populus)
The Spicebush Swallowtail is a striking butterfly whose wings are mostly black, rimmed with ivory spots, and often an area of light blue towards the tail end. It loves to feed on jewelweed, thistles, milkweed, azalea, dogbane, lantana, mimosa and sweet pepperbush. Host plants include Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), sassafras trees (Sassafras albidum) sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana), camphor (Cinnamomum camphora) and redbay (Persea borbonia).
The Carolina Satyr is a plain brown butterfly until it closes its wings, when it reveals some really interesting-looking black eyespots outlined in yellow. This is a butterfly that also feeds primarily on sap and rotting fruit, but the host plants include Carpet grass (Axonopus compressus), centipede grass (Eremochloa ophiuroides), Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) and others.
The Spring Azure is an attractive blue butterfly that enjoys the nectar of dogbane, privet, New Jersey tea, blackberry, common milkweed and many others. Host plants include a variety of woody shrubs and occasionally herbs including dogwood (Cornus florida), New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americana), meadowsweet (Spiraea salicifolia), and Collinsia.
And of course, nearly everyone knows by now that the beautiful Monarch Butterfly relies heavily on milkweed, so in our part of the country, we want to make sure that milkweed is in plentiful supply.
If you want to expand your pollinator
attraction efforts beyond butterflies, one of the best resources I’ve
come across is from the Pollinator.org. It has extensive information and plant lists tailored by region.
Now that you have the information and important reasons, what are you waiting for?
Make a positive choice and start attracting butterflies to your garden today!