When my children were young I was so excited to plant our first butterfly garden. The enthusiasm to see a butterfly has no age limit. I was amazed how easy it was to put together and that it didn’t need a lot of space.
Due to loss of habitat, butterfly populations have been declining. Monarch butterflies, in particular are struggling right now because milkweed —the one plant they need for survival—is in short supply. The destruction of their natural habitat, climate changes, and the use of pesticides have all contributed to the growing situation.
Different species of butterflies like to eat different things, so find out which native plants are favored by the butterflies in your geographic area. I focused our garden on the Monarch.
There are 5 basic garden elements you need to make it a popular butterfly hangout.
You don’t need a huge space to create this garden. Butterfly gardens can be it’s own space, a series of containers in a cluster on a patio, or woven into your existing landscape. The key for the location is it must be SUNNY!
First you will need a “host” plant. These serve not only as sites for the butterflies to lay eggs, but also as food for the caterpillars, which often eat different plants than their adult counterparts.
For the Monarchs, Milkweed is the host plant choice.
From experience, I suggest getting a couple. This is the “food source” for your Monarch caterpillars, which means they are going to devour the plant down to the stem (it grows back in a few weeks). When they run out of food, they leave. You want to keep this house guest happy and stay.
Note: Ask the nursery if they use pesticides. If the plants have been sprayed, you will not get butterflies.
Time for the color. Butterflies are attracted to bright colors such as red, orange, and purple. These native flowers are a food provider as well as attracts pollinators.
Here are my favorites that have never let me down. They can be found at most local nurseries and garden centers.
Verbena is a gorgeous plant that grows super fast, spreads and loves being neglected! The blooms stay vibrant purple all summer long and into fall.
Day Lillies are a fabulous choice in the garden because of the many varieties and it will bloom all summer long and the plant doubles in size every year.
Lavender smelled amazing and has herbal uses. It will bloom during the spring and summer months.
Zinnias always make me smile. These flowers is carefree summer-long bloomer with high impact colors. It does well in hot, sunny and dry conditions.
Lantanna is adored by butterflies and hummingbirds. I love the array of color choices. This sun-loving plant has a continuous summer bloom, even in heat and humidity.
Merigolds does double duty. It is a natural insect de-turent and a food source. The bright compact flowers are loved by the butterflies.
There are over 20+ butterfly attracting plants species: Alyssum, Aster, Bee Balm, Butterfly Bush, Chasteberry, Cosmos, Delphinium,Dianthus,Globe Thistle, Hollyhock, Nasturtium, Oregano,Phlox,Purple Coneflower, Queen Anne’s Lace, Sage, Shasta Daisy, Stonecrop,Yarrow,
Sunning Resting Spot
Butterflies are cold-blooded. They enjoy resting and sunning themselves. Add in the garden area a large flat stone or group of stones to make that perfect relaxation spot.
Butterflies need a small water source or “puddling area” that is near the nectar plants. This can be as simple as a dish of clean water. Or you can create a puddler using a shallow pan filled with sand, add a few rocks and twigs to sit & sip from (also an ideal sunning place), and then add water to keep it moist.
Remember that pesticides are killing these necessary creatures. If you do encounter unwanted critters in your garden, look for natural ways to rid them.
What I didn’t expect from our butterfly garden was my children’s increase desire to help in the yard, curiosity about nature and protecting it, and awareness of the littlest things that matter.
It is a great family project, so get gardening!
For more information of the status of the Monarch check out Saveourmonarchs.org/