How to Start a Butterfly Garden

Last update: 5 months ago

8 min read

butterflies in a wildlife garden

Starting your own butterfly garden not only enhances the visual appeal of your outdoor space and lets you enjoy the company of these jewelled fluttering guests. It also helps butterflies find food and shelter as many of their natural habitats are being lost due to human activities and urbanisation. You can easily invite butterflies to your garden by planting flowers and plants which they and their caterpillars feed on and following a few easy steps to create your own butterfly garden.


How to Start a Butterfly Garden


 

  • Do your research first. Before you make your own butterfly garden, you first have to learn more about what kind of butterflies are native to your area. Knowing which butterflies you’re trying to attract is essential in selecting the nectar and host plants for your butterfly garden. In addition to consulting a guide on butterfly species and distribution, you might also take some time to observe which butterflies are common in your area.
  • Plan the garden. Planning your butterfly garden is important to both you and the butterflies. On the one hand, planting in groups lets butterflies find flowers and plants more easily, and on the other – proper landscaping will allow you to observe more closely butterfly activities. A suitable layout should consider the size which mature plants reach and grouping them by bloom time and colour. Place taller plants at the back of the garden, or plant a butterfly bush and start adding smaller plants in the front. Think also about locating the garden so you can view it from your window or patio.
  • Plant in the sun. Both the butterflies and the plants which attract them need a lot of sunlight – at least 6 hours every day. Nectar-producing flowers should be placed where they receive sunshine from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Butterflies require warmth to fly and they usually feed only in the sun. Make sure the place is sheltered from winds.
  • Plant nectar-producing flowers. One of the most straightforward ways how you can make your garden butterfly-friendly is to entice them with flowers which produce lots of pollen and nectar. Using sense receptors on their antennae and legs, as well as receptors in their feet, butterflies can not only smell flowers but also determine whether the nectar is edible. However, butterflies don’t just rely on their sense of smell. Colour is another criteria in finding food. Different species of butterflies prefer different types of nectar in terms of both colour and taste. The best way to attract butterflies to your garden is to plant a variety of food plants which will provide them with the greatest diversity. Combine wild and cultivated plants and plant blocks of plants rather than single flowers so that they are easily found by butterflies.
  • Give butterflies a place to lay their eggs. In addition to planting nectar-producing flowers, you also need to incorporate some vegetable plants and herbs in your landscape to give butterflies a place to lay their eggs. Such plants include parsley, dill, carrots, chives, or sage. The female butterfly attaches the eggs to leaves or stems of plants that will also serve as a suitable food source for the larvae when they hatch.
  • Go organic. If a butterfly garden is started as a conservation attempt, then it is only logical that no harsh chemicals for pest and weed control are used near them. Simply – butterflies are insects. Hence, garden pesticides and insecticides are toxic to them. Use biological methods to get rid of the pests and keep the butterflies safe and sound.

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How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden


Butterfly on a Tree

  • Use splashes of colour. Butterflies don’t just follow sweet smells. Colour is the first thing they notice in plants, with red, yellow, and purple being most likely to attract them. Even better if planted in groups so they can easily locate and access them.
  • Plant for continuous blossom. Butterflies need spring flowers to help them come out of hibernation, as well as autumn flowers to help them build up their reserves for winter. That’s why, you need to consider planting a variety of flowers to provide nectar throughout the entire season. Plant a succession of blooming annuals, perennials and shrubs which will provide nectar and pollen throughout the growing season. Keep in mind that butterflies prefer native flowers and plants, as they have evolved simultaneously and depend on each other for survival and reproduction.
  • Place flat stones. Butterflies need a place to rest and spread their wings in the sun. This raises their body temperature and lets them fly and remain active. They often perch on stones, bare soil, or vegetation. Provide a few stones around your garden where they will be able to bask in the sun, which they also need for orientation.
  • Create an area for “puddling.” Butterflies gather in puddling areas to get minerals they need. Provide them with one in your butterfly-friendly garden by digging a shallow recess in the ground. Cover the bottom with plastic and fill with wet sand.
  • Provide food for caterpillars. When laying eggs, female butterflies choose plants which the caterpillars prefer to eat. If you don’t provide the desired food plants for a caterpillar, the butterfly most likely won’t lay eggs and even if it does, the caterpillars will rather starve than eat a leaf which does not satisfy its dietary requirements.
  • Provide food for adult butterflies. Butterflies visit brightly coloured and sturdy flowers which can support them while they feed. They prefer clusters of short, tubular flowers or flat topped blossoms and single flowers, whose nectar is more accessible and easier for butterflies to extract that the nectar of double flowers.
  • Provide water. Nectar, dew, and tree sap provide butterflies with moisture but they also use puddles and moist dirt or sand as sources of water. Usually, a damp area of ground covered with sand in your garden will suffice to provide butterflies with water and dissolved salt.
  • Provide shelter. Leave a hollowed trunk where butterflies will be able to hide.

How to Choose Plants that Attract Butterflies


Sun Flower

The crucial aspect of a butterfly-friendly garden is to provide different flowers that attract butterflies – both nectar-producing flowers such as butterfly weed, purple coneflowers, and asters – and host plants for their caterpillars like violets, nettle, or willow. Having these in your garden will definitely make it enticing to local butterflies. Consider also planting butterfly bush, oregano, milkweed and marigolds to increase the number of colourful visitors.


How to Make Butterfly Food


All butterflies like nectar plants but besides planting nectar-producing flowers, there are other ways to make butterfly food and make your garden an alluring spot for butterflies. Butterflies like to eat sugar from a rotting fruit. Try making two different kinds of feeders and see if they attract different types of butterflies.

  • Leave fruit to ferment. Butterflies enjoy the sugar from overripe or rotting fruit, so if you have a pear, plum or a cherry tree in your garden, don’t be quick to clean up beneath it. Let butterflies feast on the fermenting fruit.
  • Make a nectar feeder. Another attractant to butterflies is home-made nectar. You can make it by boiling 4 parts water to 1 part granulated sugar until all the sugar is dissolved. Once cooled, you can serve the solution in a shallow container with an absorbent material such as a sponge or paper towels saturated with the sugar solution, or make a jar butterfly feeder to hang in the garden.
  • Make a fruit feeder. Place a shallow pot or a plate somewhere you can watch butterflies feed and fill it with pieces of overripe fruit. Add some water or juice to prevent the fruit from drying and make that mushy consistency which butterflies like.

Observe and Enjoy


If you follow these simple steps to create your own butterfly garden, you will soon be noticing more and frequent guests feeding on flowers or fruit, resting on stones, and puddling in water. Locate your butterfly garden so that you can observe it from your window or your patio. Consider planting a circular butterfly garden place a bench for hours upon hours of observation. You can start a journal or a photo gallery to capture the types of butterflies local to your area and to follow the fascinating life cycle of butterflies – symbols of change and metamorphosis. Butterflies will visit any size of garden, so you don’t really need a lot of space. Even a few window boxes with nectar-producing flowers and host plants for caterpillars is enough to help butterflies in urban areas.


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