When we think of butterfly gardens, we tend to think of lots of nectar plants for adult butterflies, but to have a successful garden for butterflies there is much more to it than that. You need to understand the Life Cycles of Butterflies so that you can plan for all of their needs.
Find Which Butterflies Are In Your Area
In order to plan the ultimate butterfly garden, you first need to know which butterflies are in your area. There’s no point in creating the right habitat for a butterfly that never appears where you live. So your first order of business is to find out which butterflies you can expect.
I love the regional checklist finder at Butterflies and Moths of North America. For example, I live in Pennsylvania, so here is the regional checklist for the butterflies of Pennsylvania. You just enter “US” into the “region” box, and then pick your state. Click “Apply” and you’ll see a list of butterflies native to your region.
Add Host Plants for Caterpillars
Now that you know which butterflies live in your area, it’s time to start choosing which butterflies you can attract to your garden by planting the host plant for that butterfly.
Yes, adult butterflies mostly feed on nectar, but if you want butterflies to stay in your garden as opposed to just passing through, you need to plant host plants. Each butterfly species is dependent on a specific plant, or a specific family of plants for the caterpillars to feed on.
No butterfly garden is complete unless you add host plants for new generations of butterflies.
The most complete list of larval host plants for butterflies I have found is produced by the Dallas County Lepidopterist Society.
And I’ve compiled a list of the Top 10 Perennial Plants for Butterflies and Moths, which is an excellent starting point.
Don’t Forget Trees and Shrubs
When we think of butterfly gardens we tend to focus on lots of flowering plants, but did you know many more species of butterflies and moths feed on trees and shrubs? You can create a very successful butterfly garden by adding the right trees and shrubs to your wildlife garden.
Trees and shrubs also provide shelter from rain and wind and create the microhabitats that protect butterflies in addition to providing the food they need.
Many butterflies overwinter in tiny crevices in trees and shrubs as well. You should choose these woody plants first, and plan the rest of your butterfly around them.
Mass Plants for Greatest Impact
You will want to avoid the “Plant Zoo” mentality when planning a butterfly garden. (A plant zoo is just a collection of mostly unrelated plants that may be pretty to a collector, but doesn’t provide much in the way of butterfly value).
Instead, you’ll want to mass several plants of the same species together. A planting of 7 Swamp Milkweeds will do far more to attract Monarch Butterflies than a single plant will.
So your goal is to provide the best habitat you can for just a few types of butterflies, rather than trying to create mediocre habitat for a lot of different kinds.
Plan For Three Full Seasons of Bloom
You want to stretch the blooming season in your butterfly garden from at least early spring through late fall to provide the most value for these beautiful insects.
So choose a wide variety of nectar plants to support butterflies through all of these seasons. Your reward will be the ultimate butterfly garden filled with the swirling beauty of these winged wonders!
What is your best tip for creating the ultimate butterfly garden?
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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