A butterfly garden is one of the most satisfying gardens one can plant. Once the correct plants are added to a garden, butterflies will begin visiting and reproducing in your own yard!
There are several important things that need to be considered when planning a butterfly garden.
1) Which species of butterflies (and moths) are natural in your state/area?
2) Upon which host plants do those butterflies lay eggs?
3) Which plants produce nectar for butterflies?
4) Pesticide/insecticide use is deadly to butterflies.
5) If someone in the family or who visits the family is deadly allergic to bees or wasps, which plants should be avoided?
6) If the yard has children or pets, which non-thorn host plants can be substituted for those that have thorns? (Example: Hercules’ Club trees have large and small thorns. Hop Tree does not have thorns and is a host for the same butterfly as Hercules’ Club.)
Host plants should be the backbone of a butterfly garden. Host plants are the plants upon which butterflies lay their eggs. Once their eggs hatch, the caterpillars will eat the plants. If you want all neat and nice plants, you can plant your host plants in the back row or in an area of your yard that people will not visit. If you are interested in watching caterpillars as they chow down and grow, plant host plants next to your walkways and garden benches.
Some species of butterflies use trees as host plants. For smaller yards, trees can be grown in pots to keep them growing slower. Some species of trees planted in the ground can often be cut to 12″ high in the winter. Those that can be cut will reward you with fresh growth, sprouting from the stump, in the spring. Cutting trees in the winter keeps the new growth short and about eye level. This means you can find and watch caterpillars with ease.
Nectar plants are flowering plants. Some flowering plants do not produce nectar. Other flowering plants will produce nectar that attracts and feed many butterflies. It is wise to check and see if some flowering plants are invasive in your area. What grows well and doesn’t spread in one state may take over a small garden in another state.
Some species of butterflies prefer to drink from over-ripe fruit than from flower nectar. You can grow fruit bushes or fruit trees for butterflies. You can also add fruit to your garden. When you cut up fruit and throw away or compost the peelings and seeds, you can place these fruit parts in a dish or hang them from a tree in a bird suet feeder to attract and feed those butterflies.
Butterfly Houses are beautiful garden decorations. They rarely, if ever, help butterflies. In our area, they house wasps, dirt dobbers, lizards, scorpions, and spiders. In the winter, some species of butterflies do spend the winter into tight cracks in wood piles and other items but we have never heard of a documented case of a butterfly using a butterfly house in the winter. Butterflies won’t enter the houses as it isn’t their instinct to go into dark boxes. DO buy or make them for a fun or beautiful garden decoration. Don’t buy or make one with the expectation of the house helping butterflies.
Male butterflies ‘puddle’; they drink water from the soil to gain salts and nutrients that female butterflies do not need. You can provide an area for them to puddle by placing some composted cow manure in an area that stays damp. When you use composted manure to fertilize and improve your soil, leave a bit of it uncovered for male butterflies to enjoy.
Chairs and benches are almost essential! People who enjoy butterflies find themselves spending some of their rest or reading time sitting in the garden.