When it comes to butterfly gardens, the first and obvious thing to understand is that if you want butterflies, you have to encourage the entire life cycle and this means supporting the larval stages.
Yes, to get the butterflies, you need to let the larva eat your plants. The trick here is to provide plants for the larva and for the butterflies.
Plant Larvae Eating Plants at Back
Plant at the back corners of your garden where they aren’t featured landscape plants. Their job is to be eaten. Plant them where this leaf damage isn’t going to be a problem for the look of the garden.
Because some plants provide both leaves, flowers and breeding grounds for all stages of butterfly development in some species, it is a useful design trick to put all the butterfly plants at the rear of the garden or out of the mainstream of your flower production/enjoyment. You don’t care to see the worms eating your plants (at least I don’t) what you want is fluttering butterflies.
Butterflies will fly all over the place in search of food so you’ll see them in your garden. You can always wander to the rear of the garden to see how things are progressing back there in that little corner of the wild.
Video on Popular Perennial Flowers for Butterfly Gardens
These ugly worms eat my plants! I don’t want them in my garden
Let us be very clear here, butterfly larvae are ugly caterpillars that eat plants. Eat is perhaps a mild word for what these multilegged predators do to plants – ravage is closer to the truth.
If you have ever watched a parsleyworm devour your carrots, parsley or Queen Anne’s Lace, you’ll know exactly what I mean. A single worm can strip a planting almost overnight. This caterpillar will shed its skin 4 to 6 times as it grows large enough to pupate into a butterfly and when big enough, it will spin a hard chrysalis and immobilize itself on the host plant until it is ready to emerge to enter our dreams and hearts as a Swallowtail butterfly.
Now, we all love the Swallowtail but you have to have the worm before it turns. Get used to having ugly caterpillars around if you want the beauty of flitting fairies in your butterfly gardens.
In many ways, it is fortunate that butterfly larvae like really weedy plants.
This means they are rarely attracted to or chow down on the good plants in our gardens. However, unless you choose to grow the weeds for larvae food, you won’t have the ensuing butterflies.
If you have a corner of your garden to donate to science and preserving butterfly life consider planting some or all of the following plants:
Easy and Best Plants for Butterfly Larva
Plant some of these at the back of your garden where watching them be eaten won’t bother you. 🙂
- Wild Asters
- Nettles and Thistles
- Passionflower (in baskets)
Design Hints For Larva
- Do not use pesticides. You need to allow the caterpillars to grow and eat freely so they’ll develop enough strength to turn into butterflies. Whacking the garden with chemicals is not particularly friendly so avoid them.
- Do not pick only one of these plants to install in your garden. Butterfly larvae love to eat them all and the more kinds you have, the more likely it is that you will successfully attract these lovely insects.
- Encourage the above plants to self-sow and give you a small weedy section at the back of your garden – it is these weedy butterfly gardens that attract and maintain these beautiful creatures.
- You might consider encouraging your neighbours to plant some larvae food as well and if each of you donated a touching back corner of your yards, you would have a much larger space in one area for the larvae to feed and be protected.
- If you could convince several adjoining neighbours to put a few plants in both back corners and along the backs of the garden, you could create an environmental “butterfly gardens” sanctuary joined by alleyways for butterflies and other wildlife such as birds.I note that these larvae weeds do not have to be prominent, they can be tucked at the rear of gardens behind the really attractive garden plants.
Back there, they are out of sight and out of mind until the butterflies come winging over to join you for evening drinks.
Attracting Female Butterflies So They’ll Lay Eggs and Give You Generation After Generation
If you do this at the front of your garden, you’ll be able to see the butterflies drinking. A guaranteed wonderful experience for any child or – dare I say – grandfather with child. 🙂
Attracting female butterflies in the first place is as simple as encouraging these weeds to grow and providing a source of water.
The best source is a mud puddle. In this way, the insect gets the moisture she needs while also obtaining needed minerals.
Sink a shallow but wide dish – the plastic top from a garbage can is ideal – into the soil and fill it up with the excavated soil.
Keep this dish mud-puddled to bring in the butterflies in droves.
Alternately, you could dig a basin sized hole and line it with plastic – a plastic garbage bag would work well – fill in the lined depression with the excavated soil and water. There is no need for drainage holes in this mud puddle, we want wet mud, not drainage so top up the water every second day or so. In our gardens, we regularly see butterflies at the bog garden area seemingly sitting on the ground but in reality getting a much-needed drink.
Butterflies will visit sites that are in full sun and sheltered from winds.
Flowering shrubs are great for their roosting needs and the more fragrant the plant the better.
Garden Maintenance For Butterflies
- Now, we all know of our beloved Monarch butterfly that flies south to overwinter. (This of course simply proves that this insect is a true Canadian!) Most of the rest of the species we see stay right here with the rest of us. This means they are overwintering on that weedy trash or brush pile of the butterfly gardens and if you mow or prune the weeds for the winter, you are removing the insects from your garden.
- Think natural here. Do not clean up the butterfly area of the garden.
- Leave any pulled weeds or pruned stems in place for the winter. The rougher the better as far as butterfly survival is concerned.
- I got asked when was the best time to remove these pulled weeds or plant debris from the garden. In my very practical gardening, I don’t often remove weeds or prunings from the main perennial gardens. They are tucked under or behind a plant so they’re not overly visible and then allowed to decompose right in the garden. In my way of thinking, it’s just another layer of mulch. 🙂 Having said that, any diseased cuttings or leaves are removed from all gardens as a matter of garden hygiene.
Guidelines for a simple butterfly garden design you can do yourself in an afternoon
- Use bright, hot flower colors. There’s a reason we’re going to be planting a ton of yellow and red flowers in the butterfly garden. This insect loves the hot bright stuff so don’t skimp on color – the bigger and bolder the better.
- Plant in big clumps. You want to attract butterflies – there’s not much brain power there so you have to give them a really big target. Plan on putting in large clumps of their favorite plants. In this case, bigger really is better. In other words, put a minimum of three of any one kind in the clump to create a big display of bloom. full sun
- Butterflies prefer full sun so your butterfly garden design efforts should focus on creating that full sun garden for them. The sunnier the better and out of the wind is preferred as well. add mud and water.
- Adding water is a simple thing; you don’t require a pond though. What you do is excavate a very shallow depression (24-inches around by 6-inches deep) and either line it with plastic or sink a plastic garbage can lid in it. Do not puncture it for drainage. The objective is to create an area where it stays very muddy. Butterflies will congregate on this very muddy ground regularly to sip up the water. You can surround the muddy area with plants or make it visible (my advice is to make it visible with very short plants in front so you can watch the butterflies sitting on the ground in one spot for more than a few seconds).
- Put large perching stones in the morning sun. Butterflies love the radiant heat and can often be found snoozing and overnighting on these rocks. Rocks in the afternoon sun heat up too late in the day to get the butterflies moving and will be far less effective.
Best plants to attract adult butterflies
- Joe-Pye weed
- Black-eyed Susans
- Butterfly Bush
- Butterfly Weed
- Purple Coneflowers.
Remember that adult butterfly needs are different than the larval forms
The Monster List Butterfly Garden Perennials For Every Garden