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Planting for Pollinators: How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden

Posted by Melisa on

Butterflies are some of the most hardworking pollinators in the natural world. If you want your garden to yield more flowers and fruits then your outdoor space must be the ideal habitat for butterflies! The thing with butterflies is that they are fickle creatures. They will visit certain places several times but they won’t stay for long unless they consider these places as their home.

If you want to attract butterflies and you want these pollinators to stay for good then you have to design your outdoor space accordingly. In this guide, let’s talk about the many ways of creating a butterfly-friendly garden:

The Basic Needs of Butterflies

To make any type of garden insects stay in your garden, you have to provide three things: food, shelter, and safety. If you want to attract butterflies, you need to grow plants that butterflies love. You have to keep your outdoor space safe from butterflies’ natural predators to get them to stay. Butterflies naturally seek areas with heavy foliage to rest and/or sleep.

Plants that Butterflies Love

Diversifying your collection of plants will boost the butterfly population. Brightly colored flowers and flowering plants, as well as pollen and/or nectar-heavy plants, are a favorite of butterflies. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that pollen heavy plants may trigger allergies! Here are some of the many plants that butterflies love:

Garden Phlox

Garden phlox produces clusters of pretty purple, red, or orange flowers that butterflies could not get enough of! Pollinators of all kind love phlox because the blossoms are chock-full of nectar. This summer flower is low maintenance so gardeners love them too.

Blanket Flower

Blanket flower is a drought-resistant plant that could thrive in most growing environments, even places with poor soil or dry regions! These low-maintenance plants produce brightly colored, showy flowers that butterflies find irresistible. In fact, most pollinators, including butterflies and small birds, consider blanket flower as a major food source.

Butterfly Weed

Also known as milkweed, butterfly weed is the main food source of Monarch butterfly caterpillar. By filling your garden with milkweed, you’ll be feeding butterfly caterpillars by the thousands! Milkweed doesn't just attract butterflies, it also attracts other pollinators because it produces a lot of nectar.

Goldenrod

Goldenrod is a great plant to grow if you want to turn your outdoor space into a butterfly haven because it produces fragrant flowers that are teeming with pollen. Unfortunately, goldenrod gets a bad rap for causing hay fever but it's the ragweed, another flowering plant that looks similar to goldenrod, that's triggering allergies during the summer season.

New England Aster

All varieties of the aster plant family are known for being aggressive pollen producers. And butterflies happen to love pollen! New England aster is a favorite of Monarch butterflies because it produces flowers during the monarch migration. By the time the summer season rolls in, your garden will be full of colorful butterflies thanks to New England aster.

Apart from growing flowering plants, we highly suggest adding a variety of shrubs too. Shrubs add texture and structure to an outdoor space. These types of plants complement flowering plants beautifully too. Viburnum, sweet spire, and elderberry are just a few of the shrubs that you could grow to attract butterflies.

To augment the blooming time, grow a balanced combination of annuals and perennials. This way, your garden will still look lush even in the late summer season. Pentas, cosmos, lantana, petunias, and zinnias are great plants to add to your garden because these will ensure a steady supply of nectar for the butterflies.

Feed the Butterfly Caterpillars

Butterflies are fickle creatures, they are mindful of the host plant that they will lay their eggs on. If the conditions aren’t right, the butterflies will nest elsewhere. One way to make your garden attractive to butterflies is to grow plants and flowers that butterfly larvae feed on. If you are wary of caterpillars nibbling on your plants, there is nothing to worry about. Unlike pests, butterfly larvae won’t wreak havoc on the garden. Most plants could survive the nibbling butterfly larvae.

Aster flowers are the perfect food source for butterfly larvae. As younglings, butterfly larvae would feast on the aster flowers’ foliage. Once the larvae develop into butterflies, they will feed on the nectar of the flowers! Monarch butterflies love milkweed because the toxins in these plants discourage predators, such as birds and other insects, from feeding on their young. Passionflower and sweet peas are other flowering plants that attract butterflies.

Provide Shelter and Safety from Predators

Butterflies and butterfly larvae have a lot of natural enemies, including predatory birds, winged large insects, and harsh weather conditions. You can create a butterfly haven right in your backyard by building a sanctuary that’s reserved for butterflies!

Butterflies, like most animals, need a safe place away from strong winds, rains, and excessive heat. There is no need to build a fancy home for butterflies, a simple log pile that’s set in the corner of the yard will do! The spaces between the logs are ideal for nesting butterflies. The logs also work as a protective barrier against intense heat, cold, and strong winds. Planting dense shrubs and bushy flowering plants is also recommended if you are building a butterfly oasis. These plants could serve as a pit stop for tired butterflies.

Offer Butterfly Foods Apart from Nectar

Some butterflies feed on other foods other than plant nectar. And by the time winter season rolls in, nectar becomes scarce. Hackberry butterflies, for example, love noshing on overripe fruits such as pears, peaches, and bananas. The Red-Spotted Purple butterfly, on the other hand, loves fermented beer or molasses. Overripe fruits tend to attract unfriendly critters such as wasps and ants so be sure to replace the fruit regularly so you don’t end up attracting the wrong insects.

Provide Clean Drinking Water

Did you know that butterflies get vital nutrients from shallow puddles? This is the reason why masses of butterflies are flocking to muddy areas of the garden. This usually happens during the hottest part of the day when the butterflies are parched from hunting for nectar. Keep your winged friends hydrated by leaving a shallow dish of clean water. Add a couple of flat stones on the middle of the dish so the butterflies have something dry to land on once they take a sip of water.

Say NO To Pesticides

Pesticides, like any other chemical treatments, do not discriminate. Chemicals will kill pests and beneficial insects alike. Worse, some insecticides and pesticides would disrupt the mating and feeding habits of beneficial insects like butterflies. If you are committed to increasing the butterfly population in your garden, stick to natural insect repellants. If you must, use only pesticides to contain an uncontrolled infestation. Apply the pesticides sparingly and limit the application to the affected area to minimize their effects to the butterfly population.

Attracting butterflies into your garden takes some effort but if you love the idea of seeing your outdoor space exploding in colors from spring all the way to early autumn then try the tips that we’ve outlined in this guide. For more gardening tips and helpful resources, please subscribe to our weekly newsletter!


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