The Butterfly Garden

A butterfly garden must provide shelter to the egg, caterpillar, and butterfly stages of a butterfly's life cycle.

Characteristics of Any Good Butterfly Garden

A butterfly garden must provide shelter to the egg, caterpillar, and butterfly stages of a butterfly's life cycle.  A butterfly garden must also provide butterflies with food and water. Adult butterflies feed primarily on nectar, so plants that produce a lot of nectar are often the best plants for a butterfly garden. These are usually common plants that have not been hybridized.  Native plants are also more likely to be familiar to the butterflies that frequent your area. A nectar source must also be continually available, so some plants should be blooming throughout spring, summer, and early fall.  Caterpillars feed on the foliage of plants in the butterfly garden; a butterfly gardener must accept some damage to leaves as natural. Butterflies can get water from wet sand or a shallow, still puddle.  In the demonstration garden here, a small dish is set out for the butterflies.  Butterfly gardens are full sun gardens because butterflies are cold blooded and need to be warmed by the sun.

Common Pitfalls in Butterfly Gardening

It is important to be careful to avoid plants that will attract too many birds.  Birds eat butterflies, so birds in your garden will scare butterflies away. Butterfly gardeners should also be cautious about using pesticides anywhere near their butterfly garden, including on nearby grass or trees. Pesticides will kill butterflies and contribute to the decline of populations rather than population growth. Many gardeners have a tendency to plant many different species of nectar plants and just a few of each species.  Instead, gardeners should plant large groupings of the same species. This is because butterflies are attracted to masses of flowers that they can see from the air.

Why plant a butterfly garden?

Butterfly gardens offer a chance to showcase sun-loving perennials, but more importantly, they offer a chance to see the beauty and variety of butterfly species.  In a butterfly garden, you can witness the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies, and see all stages of a butterfly's life.  In addition to seeing native butterflies that live in our area year-round, you will be able to observe exotic migratory butterflies.  A butterfly garden is also great for photographic opportunities.  You can photograph a butterfly and then try to identify which species it is.  For many, the most captivating part of growing a butterfly garden is seeing which butterflies they can attract using combinations of certain plants. Also significant is the ecological role that a butterfly garden can play in providing habitat for dwindling butterfly populations. Butterflies are important pollinators and serve as food for other organisms.  Preserving this link in the food chain is a vital function of butterfly gardens.

Ten Great Butterfly Plants

In general, butterflies prefer purple, pink, red, yellow, or orange blooms, flat topped or clustered flowers, and short flower tubes.

Caterpillar host plants:
Milkweed
Hollyhock
Willow
Hibiscus
Clover

Nectar plants for adult butterflies:
Zinnia
Butterfly bush
Aster
Phlox
Goldenrod

Several goals were taken into account in the planning stage of our butterfly garden's design.  First, the garden will be used to disguise the handicap accessibility ramp that runs up the side of the building.  Taller woody plantings will give the garden enough height to cover the ramp, and will serve as examples of how butterfly gardens need not consist only of herbaceous plants.

Secondly, the two ground-level windows on the left side of the garden need to be relatively clear to allow light and fresh air to enter the building.  Low growing annuals will be used in this area.  The annuals are attractive to butterflies because of the large amount of nectar they produce. In the other areas of the garden, perennials will be planted that are easy to find at nurseries and are known to be attractive to butterflies.