Summer is the perfect time to take on a project like butterfly gardening. The soil is prime and sunny days will encourage quick growth for most native plants.
A perfect combination of food and host plants and flowers will attract these beautiful, active visitors into your yard. Here’s how to get started with butterfly gardening:
Find out which types of butterflies are common to your region and the plants that attract them.
It’s actually much easier to build this kind of targeted garden because all the plants will be indigenous to your area and well suited to the climate.
Texas, for example, has a large range of Admiral and Emperor butterflies. These include the Viceory (often mistaken for the Monarch) and the Gulf Fritillary, another large, orange butterfly.
Viceroys actually like dung and decaying fungi early in the season, and aster and goldenrod later in the summer. (Sometimes butterflies will also come to decaying fruit like rotten bananas or melon rinds. You can place these outside in a hanging tray.) Gulf Fritillaries like lantana and cordias.
Pick a spot for your garden.
Given the space you have available, the amount of sunlight it does or does not receive daily, and how well the land will drain, you can determine which combination of plants will work for you. (This will probably require some consultation with your local plant nursery or a more knowledgeable gardener. Don’t rule out your local library as a free source of information and of course, the Internet.)
One of the most popular nectar plants for a wide variety of butterflies is commonly known as the “butterfly bush”. The proper name for the fast-growing plant with beautiful hanging purple blossoms is Buddleia. Requiring little water and responding brilliantly to frequent pruning, even the least talented gardener can successfully cultivate this bush.
Host plants can include: dill, parsley, fennel, carrots, clovers, deerweed, hollyhock, mustard, sunflowers, milkweed, and sassafrass, among others.
There’s no glossing over the fact that butterflies are part of the food chain, especially for birds. Butterfly “houses,” wooden shelters with slits, give your garden visitors a place to hid from predators and get out of bad weather. (Just search online for “build a butterfly house.” Free plans are available and building the simple shelter is another good “do it yourself” spring project.)
By far, one of the most essential accessories for butterfly gardening is a good guide book. When your visitors begin to arrive, you’ll want to know their names. Like bird books, these guides are usually region specific. Some of the best are put out by the National Audubon Society and generally cost about $15 to $20. They contain illustrations for identification purposes and descriptive information about each butterfly.
If you have children in the house, you can set up a target list of butterflies you’re trying to attract and keep “score” by putting gold stars on the list or printing digital photos and building a butterfly “board.” (You don’t have to mention the project is “educational.”)
Starting a butterfly garden creates an active, beautiful spot in your yard that will offer hours of free entertainment watching the visitors it attracts. At the same time, you’ll be helping support the butterflies themselves, who, like all creatures, struggle to survive in a world that we often damage more than we nurture.