Planting a successful
garden that promotes the entire life cycle of a butterfly requires two
types of plants. First you have plants that larva feed on.
These are referred to as host plants. My personal favorite is
Sweet Fennel. Adult butterflies lay eggs on the host plant, which
will serve as a food source for the larva until it becomes a full sized
caterpillar. The caterpillar will molt several times during this
phase. At this point, the caterpillar’s body begins to
change. They will usually leave the host plant to find a more
sheltered place to continue their metamorphosis. The caterpillar
attaches itself to something sturdy such as a twig or branch.
There, the body begins to liquefy and they enter into the chrysalis
stage, or as many refer to it as a cocoon. Around two weeks later,
they emerge from the chrysalis as a beautiful butterfly! They
hang, while flapping their wings, to pump body fluid into them.
Then, the search for the second type of required plant begins.
The second type of plant required is referred to as the nectar, or food
plant. A nectar plant is the plant from which adult butterflies
use their long tongues, or proboscis, to feed on the nectar from
flowers. There are an endless number of plants to choose
from. The fun begins when you begin to decide the type of
butterfly you want to attract and what types of plants will be needed
for a particular species.
There is a smaller chance of going wrong when choosing nectar plants.
Although certain species are very particular in the type of food plant
they choose, they are not as finicky in their adult stage.
Although I do prefer to try to choose native plants, there are certain
annuals in my zone which are a must in my butterfly garden. Lantanas and
Pentas, I have found, are on the favorites list for butterflies, not to
mention that hummingbirds find them irresistible also! Another
favorite of mine would have to be Butterfly weed. It is from the
milkweed family and meets the needs of both caterpillar and butterfly.
Use this upcoming winter season to plan a design for a butterfly
garden. Study the types of butterflies you wish to attract to your
garden. Find their preferences for host and nectar plants.
Review those seed catalogues that companies tease us with during the
winter months when they know we are fantasizing about the months to
come. Decide where you want to plant this paradise for both you
and the butterflies. You really don’t need a big area. Until
recently, I had always opted for container
gardening and it worked great. But as my love for these creatures
expanded, so must my garden. It is very important to choose a
sunny spot, preferably protected from high winds. Butterflies are
notorious sun worshippers and must have sunlight to thrive.
Here is an Excel spreadsheet gardening.xls
with botanical and common names of plants that attract butterflies (and
birds). It's detailed and should be printed out using the
landscape setting on legal sized paper. It is sortable by any
column, so you can find suitable plants for your garden. (Use your
browser's "BACK" button to return to this page.)
Be sure to stay away from pesticides. They can mean almost instant
death to caterpillars and butterflies alike. Don’t
get carried away and think that you have to keep an immaculate
garden. This is the best part. A few weeds in the garden,
are never a bother to butterflies. The pleasure of a butterfly
garden is much greater if you spend time enjoying the view and not
worrying so much about the appearance. Remember, gardens are to
savor and not to be mistaken for a task that has to be done.
But let me mention, if you do decide to plant a butterfly garden, you
would benefit from including a bench or some type of seat where you can
sit, and marvel at their beauty. You just can’t measure the
gratification that comes from watching a butterfly flirting around your
garden. As you watch these creatures, I hope that your love for
them will become as powerful as mine has. As your fascination with
them increases, so will your thirst for knowledge of one of God’s most
In the old days, gardeners
were advised to use bright reds and oranges to lure butterflies, but it
turns out that pink, purple, lavender, and yellow work just as well.
The key is to keep similar colors together. Butterflies are not very
smart. A big jolt of color or fragrance is often necessary to get
Most Buddleja (also called Buddleia) produce lavender or purple flowers,
so use that hue as a starting point for choosing the colors of your other
flowers. Orange or yellow contrasts nicely with purple, and many
butterfly gardens use either purple and yellow or purple and orange as the
basic color scheme.
A butterfly sips flower nectar by
sticking its long tongue (a proboscis) down the throats of nectar-rich
flowers. Some flowers are much more eatable than others. They
need to have a lot of nectar as well as a butterfly-friendly shape.
No butterfly garden should be without at least one of the following three
weed (Asclepias tuberosa). This native perennial weed is
hardy through zone 3. The seeds are hard to sprout, so nursery-propagated
plants are a better choice. Butterfly weed needs plenty of sun,
blooms orange from midsummer onward, and seldom grows more than 1–2 feet
(30–60 cm) tall. Once planted, it likes to stay put.
(Buddleia davidii). This hardy shrub has become so popular that
nursery-grown plants are easy to find. They are hardy through zone
5; come in many shades of purple, pink, and white; and, depending on
conditions, grow 3–10 feet (91cm–3 m) tall.
Lantana (Lantana camara). This
tender perennial survives winter only in zones 8–10; in other zones, you
can buy bedding plants in the spring and grow them as summer
annuals. Plant in full sun. Almost all butterflies like lantana.
Plants. As long as your garden includes plenty of flowers,
preferably the nectar-rich types with fewer petals (single flowers), you
will still see plenty of butterflies. Butterflies prefer single
flowers rather than the double-petal type because they allow them to get
at the nectar hidden in the middle. Single flowers that are
relatively flat give butterflies a solid place to land and easy access to
nectar. Among easy annuals, single cosmos, marigolds, and zinnias
are of great interest to butterflies. Where you can use more height,
try tithonia, also known as Mexican sunflower or torch flower.
More good plants to
incorporate into your butterfly haven include any type of verbena, salvia,
cosmos, phlox, coneflower, and rudbeckia. Always keep your eyes
peeled for flowers that attract butterflies in your area — butterflies
often show strong regional preferences for certain plants like:
Aster, Black-eyed Susan, Bee Balm, Coneflower, Dogbane, Joe Pye Weed,
Ironweed, Boneset, Liatris, Small Globe Thistle, Golden Rod, Heliotrope,
Swampweed, Milkweed, Penta, Phlox, Pincushion Flower, Red Sage, Pineapple
Sage, Sweet William, Coreopsis, Verbena, Fennel, Dill, Parsley, Blue
Salvia, Abelia, Azalea, Buttonbush, Honeysuckle, Lilac, Spicebush, and
help to attract and keep butterflies in your garden. Butterfly houses
provide resting places and "overnight" accommodation.
following links for more information on butterfly gardening:
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