When creating our low maintenance garden spaces, it’s fun to provide a habitat for garden visitors like butterflies. Butterflies can add even more beauty to an already beautiful landscape. I love sitting on my deck and seeing them flutter from one plant to another along with the bees and hummingbird moths. It’s fun to see them enjoying all of the flowers that I spent so much time planting.
If you want to create a butterfly garden, there are several things that you need to be successful: the right plants, a protected location, easy to reach water, and the right gardening attitude. I’m going to take a look at all of these so that you can confidently plant gardens that butterflies will love to visit.
First, create lists of plants that butterflies love. Consider planting Asters, Joe-Pye weed, Black-eyed Susans, Lantana, Butterfly Bush, Butterfly Weed, Liatris, Pentas, Coreopsis and Purple Coneflowers. These are gorgeous plants and butterflies will flock to them in large numbers.
To be sure that you have the right plants for your area, a little research can help. Before you even begin your butterfly garden, find out which species of butterflies are in your area. Consider taking an exploratory hike around your location with a butterfly identification book. This may take a little extra time and effort, but the results will be worth it. After you have compiled your list of local butterfly species, be sure to write down in your butterfly garden plan what these particular species of butterflies use for nectar and food plants.
This is also a good time to decide if you want annuals, perennials or a combination. Plants that are perennial in your area will come back every year so while they may be more expensive initially, they have value over time. Many also grow large enough to be divided and placed in other areas of your garden.
To determine whether or not a plant is perennial in your area you need to know you Hardiness Zone. The USDA provides a map on this website: https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/. You can type in your zip code and it will return your hardiness zone number. For example here in SE PA were are in zone 6B.
Garden centers and growers label plants with the zones where the plants will be ‘hardy’ meaning that they will survive cold temperatures that occur in a given zone. For example, Bougainvillea will be a perennial in places like Florida but will not survive our cold winters in Pennsylvania and thus will be an annual.
A Protected Location
Be sure that your garden is in a location that provides at least six hours of sunlight per day. Butterflies are cold-blooded creatures and therefore do better where they are warm and sheltered.
The plants that you chose will also probably need at least 6 hours of sunlight to survive, so be sure to check your location for their benefit as well. Plants that do not receive enough sunlight will struggle to survive.
Garden centers and plant growers label plant sunlight requirements as shown below:
- Full Sun: More than 6 hours of sun/day
- Part Sun: 4-6 hours of sun /day
- Part Shade: 2-4 hours of sun/day
- Shade: Less than 2 hours of sun/day
As we noted above be sure that your site receives at least 6 hours of sun and choose plants that are labelled part to full sun.
Wind can be a butterfly's worst enemy so be sure to have plenty of wind protection in your design. You can plant tall shrubs and other plants in order to create a wind break, but a location that avoids heavy winds is even better.
By providing water, you’ll attract butterflies. Gardeners can easily provide water for butterflies by soaking the ground in an area next to their favorite plants or by having small dishes/birdbaths with water in the garden. Butterflies cannot land on water so be sure to place stones or sand in the birdbaths give the butterflies a place to land and drink.
Butterflies do get liquid from the nectar they drink but will need additional water during very hot periods to cool off.
Additionally, some species of butterflies ‘puddle’ or ‘mud puddle’. They will land on pebbles, sand or mud and drink the water in order to extract minerals that they need to grow and reproduce. So, again, be sure to include sand or pebbles in the birdbaths or dishes of water that you set out for butterflies.
If you have a small pond, lay a stick on the edge so one end is in the water and one end on the shore. This will provide an easy entranceway for both butterflies and frogs.
The Right Gardening Attitude
We all love our flowers and plants to look perfect. But when trying to attarct butterflies to our gardens, we need to come to a different gardening attitude. We need to realize that in order to get those gorgeous butterflies to live in our gardens, we need to feed the caterpillars that hatch out to be butterflies.
This means that as they feast, some of our plants will not look at pristine as we would like. Below is a photo of some caterpillars feasting on parsley I had planted in container gardens. I was happy to share because they need to eat too!
It is OK to plant specific plants these immature insects require and it is OK if they chew them up. You have to have food in your garden for all phases of this creature if you want to attract them. A helpful tip is to plant these plants at the back of the garden so you won’t see the damage.
Follow these few simple steps above to create a new garden or add to existing garden, and you will create a space that butterflies love to visit. In return, they will add beauty to your outdoor spaces and help to pollinate your plants – creating a habitat that you both can enjoy.
Have you created a butterfly garden? Comment below and share your experiences. I'd love to hear from you!