Who doesn't love a garden that is adorned with beautifully painted butterflies? Design your butterfly garden with us!
This article is the second in a series on butterfly gardens and plants to attract butterflies. You can read the first article, The Top 25 Butterfly Garden Plants. Don't forget to shop all our butterfly attracting plants in one place!
Key features of a good butterfly garden
- Food for Butterflies and Caterpillars
- Shelter from Weather and Predators
- A Place to Warm Up
- A Place to Lay Eggs
- A Chemical Free Environment
Types of plants that attract butterflies
To give butterflies the right food sources, gardeners should plant both nectar and host plants. Nectar plants will attract and then feed them. Host plants are meant to be a place for adult butterflies to lay their eggs, then the host plant's foliage is used as a sorce of food for the resulting caterpillars to eat. Since the leaves of butterfly host plants serve as a food source for caterpillars, it is very important that you don't spray insecticides on them. A chemical free environment is vital to butterfly survival! As Martha Steward says, a well chewed butterfly garden is a good thing. Growing both butterfly host and nectar plants is guaranteed to sustain a large butterfly population in your garden. Check out our Top 25 Butterfly Garden Plants here to brainstorm what perennials will best suit your garden.
Butterfly garden features
Butterflies are cold blooded so they appreciate a flat, open, sunny site where they can bask to warm up in the morning. That is what they do in the morning instead of drinking coffee like us humans. An ideal location is a flat rock or bare patch of ground positioned in the warm morning sun.
Butterfly wings are large and fragile so they appreciate protective shelter from the weather and predators. The site must be able to protect them from strong winds and rain as well. We all need a safe cozy place to relax, espcially if you're lugging around those giant wings. You can provide this in your garden with piles of loose brush where butterflies can hide to escape heat, rain and predators. So there is no need to keep your butterfly gardens as neat and tidy as you would a formal garden. You can also add a butterfly house as a place for butterflies to rest, be protected from heat, wind, rain, and predators. They are similiar to a bird house, but with narrow slots that only butterflies can pass through.
Butterflies will need a source of water to drink. Bird baths are too deep for them, asthey prefer shallow puddles of water with mud, sand or rocks. These locatons will provide them with the necessary salts and minerals. You can turn a bucket, bird bath or any decorative pot into a butterfly watering hole by filling it with gravel or sand and keeping it continually moist. Butterflies will suck the water out from between the rocks with their straw-like feeding tube, their antennas. It is best to keep their drinking water cool by partially burying the water pan in cool soil.
There are other food sources than butterfly plants. Some butterflies also like to eat fruit after it ferments. So feel free to toss your old apples and bananas into your butterfly garden. Those with horses may know that some butterflies feed on manure, so sling some around your butterfly garden. Preferably in a hidden spot, and preferably downwind! Not only is manure a source of food for certain butterflies, but it also provides nutrients for each butterfly plant in its vicinity once it ferments.
Why butterflies attracted to certain plants
Choosing the best plants to attract butterflies is a lot easier if you understand butterfly anatomy and biology. Butterflies cannot focus their eyes so the world appears blurry. Therefore they are more attracted to mass plantings of brightly colored butterfly flowers than those planted individually. Butterfly eyes are sensitive to different colors than humans and they see blue, purple, green, yellow and orange far better than they see red. So the plants for your butterfly garden should lean away from shades of red. They can also see ultraviolet light so a key feature of a butterfly flower is to have distinct patterns that only appear under ultraviolet light.
Butterflies have a great sense of smell due to their antennae so fragrant flowers are a favorite. Butterflies reproduce by laying eggs on the leaves of butterfly host plants so it is best if you do not remove spent leaves right away as you may inadvertently be removing butterfly eggs. It’s best to leave perennials standing over the winter, or at least to pile them into a loose pile in some out-of-sight corner of the butterfly garden.
Are you ready to start planting?
Now that you know the best plants to use and have a better undertanding of how butterflies function it is time to get started! Find a sunny spot in your garden and start designing. If this is one of your first gardens? You might want to check out our best practices video for planting perennials. Happy planting!
Additional Butterfly Resources:
NCSU Extension Publication - Butterflies In Your Backyard
JC Raulston Arboretum - Butterfly Attracting Flowers
Missouri Botanical Garden - Butterfly Attracting Plants
University of Kentucky Entomology - Flowers to Attract Butterflies
The Butterfly Site
Science Magazine - Butterfly Flowers and Vision
Gardens With Wings - Butterfly Garden host Plants
Juniper Level Botanical Garden Blog - Flowers That Attract Butterflies