How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden

How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden

The number one thing you can do to attract butterflies is to provide the food they like – plants. 

Butterflies are a welcome and beautiful sight in the garden, but several species are declining as they battle habitat loss.

Here are some ideas to encourage more butterflies in your garden.

1. Plant nectar and pollen rich flowers

The most important thing you can do is to plant a pollinator friendly garden. Choose nectar and pollen rich perennials and shrubs that bloom in succession throughout the growing season, so that nectar and pollen will always be available. Any size garden can attract and support pollinators.

Plants that attract butterflies:

  • Aster
  • Bee balm
  • Butterfly bush
  • Calendula
  • Cosmos
  • Daylily
  • Delphinium
  • Dianthus
  • Fennel
  • Globe thistle
  • Goldenrod
  • Lavender
  • Liatris
  • Marigold
  • Phlox
  • Purple coneflower
  • Queen Anne’s lace
  • Sage
  • Shasta daisy
  • Verbena
  • Yarrow

2. Provide Host Plants

Having nectar and pollen rich plants in your garden will certainly attract adult butterflies, but if you want to attract butterflies in larger quantities you could consider adding host plants to your garden so that the entire butterfly life cycle can take place.

Butterflies can be specific about which plants they will lay their eggs on. Monarch butterflies need milkweed to complete their life cycle, and herbs like Dill, Rue and Fennel are good options for Black Swallowtails.

Support the growth of caterpillars by allowing your garden to be a little wild around the edges. Larvae like to feed on nettles, thistles, mixed grasses and ivy, to name a few.

Plants that attract butterfly larvae (caterpillars)

  • Borage
  • Fennel
  • Grasses
  • Hollyhocks
  • Lupine
  • Milkweed
  • Nettle
  • Thistle
  • Willow

3. Create a warm environment and provide shelter

Butterflies are cold-blooded creatures that enjoy warmth and need heat to fly. Choose sunny areas to cultivate your plants. If you see a butterfly resting with it’s wings open toward the sun, it is probably basking in the warmth. When it rains, butterflies need shelter in the form of large leaves, shrubs or other sheltered spots.

4. Provide fruit

While most butterflies prefer nectar from flowers, there are some butterflies that prefer it from rotting fruit. Butterflies need food from the early spring through late summer. In late summer, some butterflies will feed on the sugar inside fallen fruit.

Rotting pears, berries and apples are good choices, though butterflies have a difficult time consuming anything too hard, so fruit on a compost heap, the riper the better, can provide them with nectar. 

These butterflies include the Red Spotted Purple, Question Mark and Mourning Cloak.

5. Avoid pesticides

Pesticides are destructive to not only butterflies but also other pollinating insects. Avoid using them on or near your flowering plants. It is estimated that pesticides have killed 90 percent of the monarch butterfly population.

6. Keep those mud puddles

Mud puddles attract male butterflies, where they are able find minerals and salts that aid in reproductive success, (this is called “puddling”) and the nutrients are often transferred to the female during mating. This extra nutrition helps ensure that the eggs survive. 

Butterflies are more than happy to come to our gardens if we provide them with what they need!

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