Choose the right plants and flowers, provide the right shelter, and you will soon have a backyard full of beautiful fluttering butterflies.
You will be able to find the perfect plants at your local garden center and they won't cost a fortune. Butterflies are attracted to both native and exotic species, regardless of the locale. You should look for both host plants and food, or nectar, plants. Butterflies feed on food plant varieties, but lay their eggs on host plants. Caterpillars remain on the host plants, which are ultimately destroyed with their voracious eating habits. Shrubs offer the caterpillar a safe place to form its chrysalis.
Nectar plants include:
Perennials and annuals make a nice mix. Although more labor intensive, annuals typically have a longer growing time, which is beneficial to the butterflies. Deadheading spent blossoms will encourage continual flowering.
Butterflies find some plants irresistible, such as butterfly weed, aster, coreopsis, and Joe-Pye weed
Host plants include:
Host and food plants do not require a garden setting. Planters will work for small areas.
Trees and Shrubs also attract butterflies, including: Lilac, fruit trees, Hawthorn, and Butterfly Bush (also called Buddleia)
These are just a few varieties to get you started, and your local garden center will have plenty of other recommendations based on region and season.
Group nectar plants together, and choose plants that vary in height and weight. Butterflies are attracted to quantity and to large, bushy plants. Some species prefer feeding on the higher blooms, while others, usually smaller butterfly types, prefer those that are closer to the ground. In addition, butterflies are better able to locate clusters of flowers rather than single small plantings. To attract more butterflies, also consider grouping plants by color. North American butterflies seem to prefer their flower colors in this order: purple, pink yellow, white, blue, and red.
If you want to keep garden areas formal and neat, consider placing the host plants, many of which are in the weed and wildflower families, in a separate location.
If you live in the city, you may want to build a butterfly hotel. These are small structures with slits for easy access. The butterflies can seek shelter in these during rainy or cooler weather. In rural areas, butterflies can find plenty of places to hide, including log piles.
Choose a sunny, but sheltered, location for your butterfly garden. A butterfly's internal body temperature must reach about 85 degrees before it can fly. That is why you may not see butterflies on cloudy days or until mid-morning during the summer. If you can, provide some large rocks nearby for basking.
You can also make the garden more attractive by placing small feeding dishes around. These should contain sugar, water, and some object on which the butterflies can perch. Molasses and ripe fruit will also work, but any of these mixtures may also encourage other visitors such as ants.
A patch of wet sand or dirt will attract male butterflies. Sand and dirt contain minerals that are important ingredients in the production of sperm. A small mineral block, which is available at pet stores, can be set in the moist sandy area. This will allow you to observe a behavior called "puddling," a practice that involves mostly males gathering as a group at the watering spots.
With just a little weeding and watering, your butterfly garden will provide much joy for observers of every age.
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