Butterflies are a wonderful addition to any garden. Like people, they have their own preferences for shelter, food and activities. If you are thinking about designing a garden bed for these ‘floating flowers’, you will need to plan carefully.
Climate. While the overall climate that you live in will determine which butterflies are native to your area, the micro climate you create will also determine how many butterflies arrive, and how long they stay. Butterflies require a warm environment. If they are too cold, they cannot fly and collect nectar. Therefore, it is important that your new garden be in a sunny location. Preferably full sun all day long.
Place some rocks in your garden bed. Butterflies will sun themselves on these rocks to warm up before taking flight. You will also want to make sure your butterfly bed is sheltered from wind. Especially if you live in an area prone to heavy gusting. Butterflies need protection from the wind, and will avoid your area if they are unable to fly without expending too much energy.
Nutrients. Flowers provide nectar, but butterflies also require a source of minerals. The easiest way to do this is to provide a mineral slurry for them. Butterflies do not drink in a traditional sense, but more sip a very thin layer of moisture. You can take an aluminum pie tin, poke holes in the bottom and put a mixture of soil and sand in it. Then add water to dampen the mixture into a kind of slurry. The butterflies can then sip nutrients from this mix, which is called ‘puddling’. You do not want this container to hold water, as butterflies can drown very easily in just a bit of standing water.
Food. The fun category! Butterflies mostly drink nectar from flowering plants. While most any flowering plants will do, there are some flowers that are considered butterfly magnets. These include: coneflowers, butterfly bushes, bee balm, asters, lavender, zinnias, sedum, butterfly weed and coreopsis, to name a few. With careful planning, you can have butterfly attracting blooms from spring to frost.
When flowers aren’t in bloom, you can attract them with a fruit mash. This is rather unattractive, but you might want to consider it if you are in between bloom times. For the mash, use either a high sugar fruit (like bananas or pineapple) or citrus slices. Mash together the fruit and some granulated sugar until it is soft and mushy. Then put this mash onto one of the rocks in your butterfly garden. It is important to wash this off after a couple days, as you don’t want rotten fruit in your garden!
Caterpillar food and shelter. It’s not just adult butterflies that need to eat. The caterpillars need food, and a place to grow up safely! Many people do not realize that butterflies will only lay their eggs on the food source that their caterpillars will eat. If there is no larval food, the female will not lay eggs there. Some common plants that are hosts for butterfly larva include: dill, parsley, milkweed, alfalfa, nettles and various grasses. Sometimes the larval plants are not very attractive, so you might want to plant a few in an out of the way place instead of in the garden bed.
Remember that butterflies are insects, so any insect repellent you use will also affect the butterflies. Following these four elements will surely bring many different kinds of butterflies to your yard.