Tips for Creating Butterfly Gardens

Butterflies are naturally attracted to flower gardens as they seek meals of sweet nectar. Having butterflies flitting about in the garden is an added bonus for gardeners. After all, butterflies are just as pretty as the flowers they like to visit. By creating butterfly gardens, gardeners can attract and enjoy even more of the brightly colored butterflies.

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Butterflies are more likely to visit certain flowers, and the addition of butterfly-friendly features in butterfly gardens will bring in an even larger number of these delightful insects. You may find that you already grow some plants that attract butterflies, but with just a little planning and effort you can create a beautiful haven for these delicate winged creatures.

When deciding where to locate butterfly gardens, choose spots that are not isolated from other plants. Butterflies will be more likely to find your butterfly gardens if there are other flowers and butterfly plants nearby to help lead them to the butterfly gardens. If a butterfly garden is the only patch of flowers amongst a vast sea of lawn, butterflies won't have much reason to be in the area. But if there's a border of flowering shrubs or other butterfly-enticing plants scattered around the backyard, butterflies will be much more likely to pass some time in your butterfly gardens.

Butterfly gardens should include a variety of plants that are attractive to butterflies, and those plants should be in a variety of colors and heights. Consider planting azaleas, rhododendrons, lilacs or redbud trees for height. Fragrant James McFarlane lilacs are especially attractive to swallowtail butterflies, and of course butterfly gardens aren't complete without at least one butterfly bush.

Both the Tiger Swallowtail and the Great Swallowtail butterflies are especially fond of nectar from Japanese honeysuckle, while Monarch butterflies are particularly attracted to milkweed, goldenrod, thistles and mints. Each species of butterfly has favorite plants, so butterfly gardens should have a wide variety of plants.

Choose plants that bloom in a range of colors throughout the growing season to attract the greatest number of butterflies. Butterflies will appreciate finding a blooming redbud in the early spring, followed by azaleas and lilacs, and finally towards fall they'll be grateful to find nectar from asters, Autumn Joy sedum and goldenrod.

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No butterfly garden should be without the bright orange blooms of butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberose. Not only will the colorful blossoms attract many butterflies, but this plant also provides food for butterfly caterpillars.

All butterflies begin their lives as caterpillars and without caterpillars there would be no butterflies. When creating butterfly gardens it is important to also provide plants on which butterflies like to lay their eggs. Those same plants will later provide food for the caterpillars as they grow.

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Dill and parsley both provide food for butterfly caterpillars. Other food plants for butterfly caterpillars include snapdragons, citrus trees, violets, willow, elm, poplar and aspen trees, along with cherry, ash and birch trees. Viceroy butterflies are fond of laying their eggs on apple trees, while tiger swallowtails are partial to tulip trees. Any of these trees are fine additions to butterfly gardens.

Many commonly-grown flowers will attract butterflies, but they are most fond of flowers with clusters of tiny blossoms. Butterflies can rest on these flowers and sip nectar at their leisure from the many blossoms. Lavender, lantana, Queen Anne's Lace and lilacs all provide the clusters of tiny flowers that will draw in an abundance of butterflies.

Many other commonly grown flowers, both annual and perennial, will attract butterflies to butterfly gardens, including hollyhocks, purple coneflowers, cosmos, zinnias, Black-eyed Susans, lavender, marigolds, huechera, zinnias, cleome and beebalm. If you have room for this large plant, Mexican sunflower (tithonia) will attract many butterflies and hummingbirds with its sunny orange blooms.

Plant butterfly gardens with groups of plants. A group of plants is much easier for the butterflies to find, but they may not happen upon a single flower planted here and there. Avoid planting frilly double flowers in butterfly gardens, as these are often developed more for their fancy appearance than for their nectar-producing abilities. It's also difficult for butterflies to reach any nectar amongst all those petals.

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In addition to providing butterfly food, butterfly gardens should also be a sort of rest area for butterflies. Butterflies will appreciate finding a flat rock amongst the plants where they can rest and sun themselves. They'll also be happy to find a place to get a drink of water. Butterflies like puddles, and male butterflies especially will often gather around puddles. Flat stones with depressions that collect water will provide a nice little puddle for butterflies, or simply maintain a wet, muddy spot in a sunny corner of the garden. You might also create a more permanent puddle for butterflies by burying a bucket in the garden up to its rim, then filling the bucket with sand. Pour water or fruit juice into the bucket of sand and watch butterflies flock to their own special little puddle.

Butterflies are most active on warm, sunny days. On cool, cloudy or rainy days they want to find a place to shelter from the weather. Butterfly gardens should include a place where butterflies can find shelter. A small log pile will provide shelter for butterflies, or you can build or purchase butterfly shelters. Butterfly shelters look much like tall, skinny birdhouses with narrow slots for entrances. Butterflies will rest inside a butterfly shelter, but only if the shelter hasn't been hijacked by wasps.

The goal of butterfly gardens is to provide habitat for these lovely creatures, therefore the use of broad spectrum insecticides should be avoided in a butterfly garden. Broad spectrum herbicides are not selective and will kill just about any insect, even butterflies and their caterpillars. Certain strains of Bt, while they are organic, will also target butterfly caterpillars and should be avoided in a butterfly garden. If an insect problem persists in the butterfly garden, only the more selective insecticides should be used to target the pests. Insecticidal soap will knock down many insect pests, but avoid spraying insecticidal soap directly on butterflies and butterfly caterpillars.

One final addition to butterfly gardens should always be a comfortable bench where the gardener can sit to admire the beautiful garden and the butterflies it attracts. After all, butterfly gardens are created not only for the benefit of the butterflies, but also for the gardener's enjoyment.

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