You’d be hard-pressed to spot a butterfly and not smile as you watch it gracefully alight on a flower. Butterflies are magical creatures, but not just because of their beauty—they also play a significant role in the balance of our ecosystem. They’re important pollinators, and also indicate quality of life in specific environments.
Unfortunately, your chances of spotting butterflies is growing slimmer. Certain species—specifically monarchs—are disappearing at a fast clip, due to the decline of milkweed. (Hyperlink Monarch post here).
Don’t want to envision a future in which you can’t catch a glimpse of a butterfly? Turns out, you can help save them—by creating a beautiful, natural space that encourages them to hang around.
How to Get Started with Your Butterfly Garden
If you want to create a butterfly garden, your first order of business should be to learn what kinds of butterflies are common to your area. A website or butterfly book can help you get started here, and you can also observe. If you have a college or university nearby, they can be a wonderful resource.
Next, find a spot in your yard that gets plenty of sun, since the butterflies will need it for warmth.
What to Plant
You’ll need milkweed! This is the only food source for the monarch butterfly caterpillar, so it’s an essential part of any plan. The female monarch lays her eggs on the underside of the milkweed leaf, and when the caterpillar is born, he begins eating the leaf itself.
Look for milkweed’s botanical name, Asclepias, when searching for plants or seeds. Many nurseries refrain from calling the plant milkweed, since the “weed” aspect has a negative connotation.
Other Plants to Invite Butterflies
In addition to milkweed, you’ll also want some nectar plants to serve as a food source. These include:
Asters. These look like daisies, and come in so many bright colors, even the most selective gardener will find one she loves. Butterflies love the plant’s nectar and caterpillars its foliage, making it an ideal choice for any butterfly garden.
Purple Coneflower. Echinacea selections are incredibly heat and drought resistant, bloom beautifully, and provide a lovely nectar.
Phlox. Grow phlox next to coneflowers, as they complement each other well. Plus, it smells divine.
Salvia. These narrow blooms come in a huge variety of colors.
Zinnia. A great choice to start from a seed, these grow to be about 4 feet tall.
You may want to include some large stones for resting spots (and to absorb heat), and a spot for standing water. If you’re concerned about mosquitoes, a patch of damp soil will do fine.
Watch & Learn
Of course, there is great joy in watching butterflies flock to a habitat you’ve created specifically for them. However, also observe from a scientific viewpoint. What species are you attracting? Are you spotting any caterpillars? These observations can help you add on to your garden next year.
Above all, enjoy what you’ve done. You’re helping to save these species!
If you have any tips for creating butterfly gardens, we’d love to hear them in the space below.