There's no doubt that butterflies are like flying flowers. I love watching them as they ride the air currents and flutter from flower to flower. I love planting plants that will attract these beautiful little creatures. What could bring more joy in the garden than watching a beautiful butterfly flutter around your flowers? There are a number of flowers that butterflies enjoy such as Liatris, Monarda, and butterfly bush, but if you really want to take it a step further, you can create a butterfly garden that not only provides food but also provides shelter, water, and host plants for butterfly larvae.
Here are 6 tips to help attract butterflies to your garden.
1. Choose the right plants. Butterflies enjoy nectar rich flowers such as Liatris, Jupiter's beard, and butterfly bush.
2. Placement matters. Butterflies love the sun, so be sure to plant these nectar rich plants in an area that has a lot of sun, particularly afternoon sun. It should be pretty easy to do since most of the plants you will want to get will do best in full sun.
3. Grow native plants. Keep it simple. By planting native plants you're more likely to attract butterflies than if you plant some exotic species. The butterflies that would be attractive to that exotic species are most likely not living here in Connecticut. By planting native species, you'll also have less work to do as the native species are plants that have evolved in Connecticut for hundreds of years and have learned to adapt to our crazy weather....you know when it's 40 degrees one day and 80 degrees the next! For a great source of native plants, check out this native plant list for Connecticut: http://www.plantnative.org/rpl-nes.htm
4. Don't use toxic pesticides. It's better if you practice IPM. IPM stands for Integrative Pest Management. It's a practice of pest management that is more natural and focuses on long-term pest control through the use of biological control (like beneficial insects such as lady bugs), habitat manipulation, cultural practices and use of disease and pest resistant species. Butterflies and bees are very sensitive, so even mild or organic pesticides can still harm them.
5. Water. Butterflies like to do what's called “puddling”, or splash around in puddles of water. They also need water to stay hydrated just like any other animal. The best way you can provide water for them is to take a small dish or saucer (one leftover from an old pot is always a good choice) and fill it ¾ of the way with sand and then fill it the rest of the way with water. This will give the butterflies a shallow dish to get their water from. You'll have to check it often, especially in the heat, but it will be well worth it when you've attracted these flying flowers to your garden.
6. Choose plants with bright colors. Butterflies are attracted to colorful flowers, so if you choose bright colors such as reds, yellows, and oranges, that's a pretty safe bet.
7. Be sure to incorporate flowers that have flat tops, such as butterfly weed. Flat-topped flowers make it easy for butterflies to land and get the nectar they need from the plants.
8. Protect them from the wind. Although it's true, butterflies do migrate thousands of miles, you're more likely to attract butterflies if you have your plants situated in a sheltered spot. This will make gathering nectar easier on them. If you don't have a sheltered spot, you can always plant taller shrubs or trees to help block the wind. You can also place the plants near your house. That's a great wind-break and will also give you better viewing.
9. Provide nectar sources from early spring to late fall. Butterflies need nectar sources early in the season, especially after a long migration. Other butterflies such as monarchs that migrate late in the fall need nectar to fuel their long journey south, so be sure to pick a variety of plants that will provide nectar all season long.
10. Finally and of great importance: choose host plants for caterpillars. If it's truly a butterfly habitat, your garden should include a number of different host plants for caterpillars. Keep in mind that you'll need to feed the larvae too, not just the adult butterflies, so be tolerant of a little munching. They won't do enough damage to harm your plant and if a little nibbling is the price to pay for having butterflies, it's well worth it.
For a great resource for specific butterflies, their nectar sources and host plants, consult this list: