By P. Allen Smith // Photography by Mark Fonville and Jason Masters
One of the pleasures I enjoy about a garden is watching all the wildlife that comes to visit. I am particularly fond of those little acrobats of the sky: butterflies. They really bring a flower border to life as they flutter from bloom to bloom.
Luring butterflies to a garden is really quite simple and the plants that attract them also add a lot of beauty. Here are some tips to get you started.
If you want to increase the population of these showy little guys around your place, you need to provide food for two different parts of their life cycle, as larvae or caterpillars and as adult butterflies. Plants suited for the larva stage are commonly referred to as host plants and adult butterflies feed on nectar plants.
When it comes to host plants different varieties of butterfly larva have specific requirements. For instance the Painted Lady butterfly larva likes hollyhocks and sunflowers, but the Monarch prefers milkweed. Trying to appeal to every butterfly would require a large group of plants and to be honest, some of them are weedy. So narrow your selections to the ones that benefit the greatest number of larva. Host plants that feed several kinds of butterfly larva are parsley, milkweed and fennel. Others that are a little showier include Queen Anne’s lace, false indigo, passionflower, asters and various kinds of sedum.
Now once the adult butterfly emerges from the chrysalis it needs nectar-producing plants to dine on. There is an extensive list of plants to choose from, but they seem to be especially attracted to purple, pink, yellow and white flowers. To make it easy for the butterfly to spot your offerings, plant in drifts of a single type of flower rather than a mix of different colors.
Be sure to arrange it so that something is in bloom throughout the growing season and especially in late summer when butterflies are most active. Including some of their favorite annuals will ensure a steady supply of nectar.
To provide shelter from winds consider planting your butterfly garden in front of a hedge.
One of the most important things you can do it make your garden butterfly friendly is limit your use of pesticides. Choose earth friendly options such as an insecticidal soap and spot treat problems rather than spraying the entire garden.
Butterfly Nectar Plants
Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus)
Globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa)
Marigold, French (Tagetes patula)
Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia species)
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
Sunflower (Helianthus species)
Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)
Verbena (Verbena species)
Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)
Aster (Aster species)
Bee-balm (Monarda didyma)
Black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia species)
Boltonia (Boltonia asteroides)
Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Coreopsis (Coreopsis species)
Daylily (Hemerocallis species)
False Indigo (Baptisia australis)
Gayfeather (Liatris species)
Goldenrod (Solidago species)
Hibiscus (Hibiscus species)
Hollyhock (Althaea rosea)
Joe-pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum)
Lantana (Lantana camara, L. species)
Lobelia (Lobelia cardinalis)
Mexican Sage (Salvia leucantha)
Milkweed (Asclepias species)
Passion Flower (Passiflora species)
Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Sedum (Sedum species)
Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum superbum)
Yarrow (Achillea species)
Butterfly Sun Deck
Butterflies enjoy soaking up the sun. You’ll often see them sunbathing. They also appreciate a shallow pool of water. This simple project will provide a place for butterflies to enjoy both.
• Choose a location in full sun that is sheltered from winds.
• Dig a medium sized, shallow hole.
• To retain water line the hole with plastic or place a shallow bowl in the hole.
• Place a brick or large flat stone in the center of the hole.
• Fill in around the brick with gravel.
• Add water.
Over the course of the summer keep the gravel moist. Slices of over ripe fruit will also attract butterflies to the area.