Attracting butterflies and creating a butterfly garden is a great way to enjoy and learn about nature and well as to add beauty to the landscape. By growing the right types of butterfly food plants, it is possible to get many different native butterfies to visit an area. The entire life cycle of butterflies can be encompassed if the right food plants for their caterpillars are included in the landscape design.
All adult butterflies are mainly nectar feeders with some feeding on rotting fruits and other fluids at times. This means the best way to attract colorful butterflies is to plant lots of beautiful flowers. Flowers that attract butterflies often have large colorful petals for them to land on or they are fragrant to draw in the insects from a distance. Some annual flowers that are good for attracting butterflies include, sunflowers, zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, snapdragons, blanket flowers, salvias, gomphorinas, mexican sunflowers, gloriosa daisies, and petunias. Butterflies are especially attracted to flowers that are yellow, orange, or red in color. Some good perennial plants for attracting butterflies incude, daylilies, butterfly bush, butterfly weed, lavenders, roses, hibiscus, chaste tree, bottle brush, rose of sharon, lantanas, perennial salvias, cat mints, mums, and asclepsias. Butterflies are attracted to sunny areas, especially in the mornings when they are warming up for the day and they will appreciate an area sheltered from high winds. Try to have several different types of butterfly attracting plants so there will be something blooming all during the warm months. Planting clusters of plants of varying heights and colors, is always a good idea.
Besides attracting adult butterflies, it is a good idea to learn about the food plants that their caterpillars need and to grow some of these. In addition to attracting the egg laying adults, these plants will ensure a new generation of butterflies for coming seasons. Different butterfly species are native to different parts of the country, so before filling your landscape with food plants, be sure that the species that use a particular plant, live in the region. Butterfly fieldguides such as those put out by Peterson and the Audibon society are good sources for information on the different native butterflies, their ranges, food plants, and life cycles. Some plant to consider and the butterfly species that use them include: milk weeds for the wide ranging Monarch and Queen butterflies, hollyhocks and mallows for the Painted lady and American Painted lady, violets for the Fritillary butterfly and passion vines for the Zebra and Gulf Fritillary butterflies of the deep south. Black Swallowtail's larvae feed on members of the carrot family such as queen anne's lace, dill, parsley, and asparagus. Spicebush Swallowtails feed on sassafras and spicebush while Tiger Swallowtail feeds on birch, willow, cherry and popular trees. Nettles and thistles are the food plants for the larvae of Tortise shell butterflies, the Morning Cloak, and the Question Mark. If weedier species such as thistles, plantains, or nettles, are allowed to grow, it is important to remove their flowers and seedheads to keep them from spreading and becoming a problem. It is also necessary to not cut these caterpillar food plants down in the fall as the larvae often form their chrysalis on the plants and overwinter on them.
Some other ways to attract butterflies is to provide the adults with feeding stations. Sitting out shallow bowls of fruit juices, mashed bananas, or cut open fruits may attract feeding butterflies. During dry periods, butterflies will be attracted to puddles as a source of water. Don't use pesticides near the butterfly plants and try to use less toxic methods to control insect pests in the garden. Hand picking pests such as caterpillars and stinkbugs is a good alternative to spraying with strong chemicals. Using beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lacewings is a good way to fight aphids and whiteflies.
Lastly be sure to include a nice sitting area near the butterfly garden so people can relax and take in the sights, smells, and wonders of the natural world.