Farming Advice: Attracting Butterflies to Your Flowerbed

Farming advice from MOTHER and her readers, this issue is about attracting butterflies to your flowerbed, including types of butterfly plants, and providing shelter, food and water for butterflies.
By Karen B. Smith
August/September 1997
Add to My MSN

Seventh graders weed and have fun at the same time. Placing the garden next to a fence is good for climbing plants.
PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
Slideshow


Content Tools

Related Content

How to Have a Great Relationship with Your Contractor

Treat your building professional as you would want to be treated--and more great advice from contrac...

Do You Have Any Recommendations on Ventilation for a Root Cellar?

Without ventilation, the produce in your root cellar could spoil. Here are some tips for ventilating...

Do You Grow Flowers to Attract Beneficial Insects?

Readers report on the types of flowers they grow to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects...

Double Your Tomato Plants

Tomatoes are a great vegetable, perfect for all occasions and relatively easy to grow. Here is a way...

Growing a garden for attracting butterflies to your flowerbed, including: water, shelter food, research and planting. 

Just plant it and they WILL come—as if by magic—a garden of flittering, fluttering butterflies. Everything I read promised that it was just that easy. My seventh-grade students and I wanted to build a place where we could study living insects interacting with their environment. We had very limited space and, of course, very limited money, but lots of enthusiasm and free labor. We did some research, got support from our school administrator, and wrote a grant request for needed materials. Now we have a garden of beautiful butterflies to study in all stages of their life cycle that hundreds of future seventh graders will enjoy. It really was that easy—just like magic.

Butterflies need the same things that other animals need—water, shelter, the right temperature, and the right food. My seventh graders and I designed a garden to provide survival needs that would attract butterflies. Here is how you can begin attracting butterflies to your flowerbed.

WATER: A shallow pan full of soil and water will allow a butterfly to drink safely without endangering its fragile wings in the water. Add a couple of rocks where a butterfly can bask in the summer sunlight. Someone donated a beat up, old baking pan from their kitchen for our garden and we ran a sweat hose through the mud in the bot tom of the pan for water. Your plants will also need lots of water.

SHELTER: Butterflies need protection from wind, rain, and predators. They often hide in nearby woody plants like azaleas or trees.

FOOD: Adult butterflies drink the nectar from sturdy flowers. They prefer tubular flowers (yellow) in full sun that will support their weight so they can drink and rest at the same time. Adult butterflies will also carefully seek the right plant to lay their eggs on so that the larva will have the right food to eat upon hatching. If you cultivate the plants needed for larval food, you will see courting, mating, and egglaying in your garden. For example, the monarch butterfly lays its eggs on milkweeds. When the eggs hatch, the tiny caterpillars eat the milkweed plant. The Gulf Frittilary (also the Zebra Longwing) butterfly only lays eggs on the passion vine; the hatching caterpillars eat the leaves of the vine. (Don't use insecticides even though you will have holes eaten in your plants! Otherwise, you won't get to see the magical transformation of a caterpillar "eating" its way into an adult butterfly.)

HOW TO ATTRACT BUTTERFLIES TO YOUR FLOWERBED

RESEARCH: First, go to your local library and get some books on butterfly gardening. Also contact your agricultural extension agent, 4-H leader, and your local garden club for specific (free) information about your geographical area. The Freshwater Fish and Non-game Wildlife Commission gave me free materials about Florida butterflies. Like other animals, butterflies have a specific geographic range and definite plant preferences that you must learn about if you wish to attract them. Make a list of butterflies in your area and the plants that will attract them. Once you begin asking around, someone will probably volunteer to give you free transplants from their garden.

GET SUPPORT: If you are working within an institution, it is essential that you enlist the enthusiastic support of your administrator and your groundskeeper. Agree on several different places that a garden could be located, keeping in mind that sunlight, water, and not too much wind are essential. Plan how the garden will be maintained. Talk to parents, students, businesses, family, and friends about your garden and the butterflies that are going to come enjoy it.

JUST PLANT: Assemble materials and sketch out a plan before the BIG day. Recruit anyone to come, bring tools, and help plant. Those who work will have a personal investment in the future of your garden. Now comes the hard part: waiting for the plants to mature, flower, and attract butterflies. They will come ...but not by magic.

Butterfly illustrations in the image gallery are by seventh graders at Wilkinson Junior High in Middleburg, Florida.  


BUTTERFLY GARDEN MATERIALS LIST
• Hand tools, shovel, rake (loaned or donated)
• Garden hose and sprinkler or sweat hose (donated or bought)
• Fertilizer, peat (Azalea-Camellia fertilizer with trace elements added)
• List of specific nectar and larval food plants for the butterflies In your area (may be transplanted, seeds, or bought)
• List of nearby woody plants to provide shelter (you may need to buy some if there are no places of shelter close by)
• Shallow pan for water/mulch to discourage weed growth
• 14 butterfly field guide (optional)


Previous | 1 | 2 | Next






Post a comment below.

 








Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.