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.

| August/September 1997

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.)

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