Butterfly Gardening Made Easy

To make your wish come true, you must first capture a butterfly and whisper your wish to it. Because a butterfly can make no sound, the butterfly cannot reveal your wish to anyone but the Great Spirit who hears and sees all. In gratitude for giving the beautiful butterfly its freedom, the Great Spirit always grants the wish.

~Native American legend

Few people can resist watching the beautiful and colorful butterfly, happily flitting through the air. Captivating both young and old alike, butterflies are extremely easy to attract to your home, filling your summer days with beauty, and are quite often attracted to native plants. Not only will this make it very easy to grow a butterfly environment, but will allow you to create a beautiful xeriscape; grouping similar plants of native origin together, thus helping to preserve water and cut down on maintenance.

So you’ve decided to create a butterfly garden? Great! There are a few important things that you will want to take into consideration, however, prior to putting in your plants. Location and climate are equally as important as the plants that you choose. Additionally, you will have to plan ahead to reduce pests in your garden, since insecticides will harm your butterflies.

Sunlight. Butterflies are cold-blooded, meaning that they usually have to start off their day by sunbathing; soaking up the sun’s rays and warming their bodies before they can become active. This is why it is rare to see butterflies out on an overcast day, yet they flit all over when it is warm and sunny. For this reason, you will want to plan your butterfly garden in a place that gets lots of bright, direct sunlight, rather than a place that is shady. One good idea is to plan your garden alongside your driveway; gravel and pavement heats up quickly in the sunshine, and is a definite lure for a butterfly.

Puddles. While butterflies like nectar, they also need moisture and seem to favor puddles. Nutritious minerals are often pulled from the soil and dissolved into the puddles, creating a banquet for thirsty butterflies. Additionally, puddles are a favored congregation spot for male butterflies to strut their stuff and show off for the ladies. Depressions that can collect runoff water should be promoted or another good idea is to take small pails and bury them flush with the ground. These can be filled with regular or sugar water, or a piece of overripe fruit can be added to make a delectable treat for your beautiful new friends.

Plants. The prettiest part of your new garden will be where your adult butterflies look for dinner. One must consider, however, that not all flowers will attract butterflies. First of all, you will have to remember that your garden will need a lot of sunlight (generally a minimum of half-sun each day). For this, you will need to choose plants that are adapted to sunlight, rather than shady areas. You will also have to check to ensure that the plants are well adapted to your soil conditions and whether or not you will have to use soil additives. Checking out your desired plants at the local library, or via the internet, is a sure way of finding out what conditions they grow best under.

One of the best ways to attract butterflies is by using native plants; after all, the butterflies will naturally seek out their chosen food sources during daily or migrational activities. Plants such as the milkweed or thistle are both delightful to butterflies, though some communities may not appreciate someone growing what they perceive to be ‘weeds’. Always check with local laws to ensure they will allow you to grow these type of plants. Other easily-grown butterfly treats include red clover, alfalfa, dandelions, mints and wild strawberries.

Another good way to help determine plants is to pay attention to the butterflies in your area or do a little research on them, on the web. Find out what plants they like to feed from, nest on and what kind of plants that their caterpillars commonly eat. This will help you to determine the needs of your butterflies and will definitely cut down on the amount of work you have to do.

For the most effective butterfly garden, you will want to create an environment for the insects, throughout their entire life cycle. Mix plants that supply nectar for the adult butterflies as well as food for the caterpillars. Provide them with a safe place to lay their eggs because more caterpillars means you will have more beautiful butterflies. Many caterpillars enjoy simple garden plants, such as parsley, dill and carrots while others will enjoy plants such as clover or sunflowers. To best accommodate the eating preferences of caterpillars, leave some of the native vegetation to your area growing in your yard; oak trees, violets and nettles often attract larval butterflies.

Beds. In addition to a warm, sunny place, butterflies will also look for a place to spend both the night and the wintertime. Bushes and clumps of grass, left unattended, provide excellent cover, as well as leaf and tree litter. Autumn leaves not only provide a great hibernation spot for butterflies, but will also help to fertilize your lawn.

Pest Control. This poses a concern for many who would like to start butterfly gardens. After all, if you do not wish to kill off the very insects that you’re trying to attract, you cannot use pesticides or normal deterrents. You can always contact your local agricultural extension office for information on organic gardening and pest control but the best method is the natural way. Promote birds to visit your yard or nest in your trees; not only do they provide you with more beautiful visitors, but they will eagerly devour insects and help keep the population under control. Additionally, other insects like ladybugs and spiders, can also help diminish the number of harmful insects in your garden. Garter snakes and other harmless varieties can also be attracted and used to keep the pest population in check though, if you live in an area that has a lot of venomous snakes, you may want to dissuade all reptiles from your garden.

Creating a butterfly garden is fun, easy and will provide entertainment for the entire family. By using groups of native plants, you garden will take less work to maintain and use less water, as well as drawing your colorful friends. Butterfly gardens are ideally suited for areas where it is difficult to grow exotic plants and is a great way of turning your yard into a real eye-catcher.

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