HOW TO PLANT A BUTTERFLY GARDEN

by | Miscellaneous

Florida is home to more than 180 species of butterflies, which is the highest of any state east of the Mississippi River, and 40 of these species are unique to Florida

Butterflies are important to the environment for many reasons. They are pollinators, food for other animals and are indicators of a healthy ecosystem

Attract butterflies to your landscape is easy. Just place a garden for them (a bonus is that most butterfly gardens attract hummingbirds, too)

Follow these simple steps and they will come:

Step 1

Select a sunny side to plant flowering nectar plants

Butterflies are cold-blooded and bask in the sun to warm their bodies. As temperatures rise to about 85 to 100 degrees, butterfly activity increases

Some butterflies prefer shady areas on the edge of wooded areas, so to increase the diversity of butterflies in the landscape, place the garden adjacent to a natural area with trees. If possible, put the garden in a spot that will be seen from inside the home so you can enjoy it when it’s too hot to venture out

Step 2

Include both adult nectar sources and caterpillar food plants in the garden

Caterpillars are like some children; they are very picky eaters. For example, milkweeds are food for both monarch and queen caterpillars, whereas dill, fennel and parsley are food for black swallowtail caterpillars

Many trees can double as shelter and a food source such as citrus (giant swallowtail), red bay (laurel swallowtail), elms (question mark) and willow (viceroy)

Most adult butterflies feed on flower nectar. They are attracted to color, and the most effective technique to attract more butterflies is to group similar colors together vs mixing up colors

Select flowers that will bloom at various times throughout the year and with different flower sizes. Butterflies like cluster flowers or large solitary flowers that provide a sturdy perch

Some example of good nectar plants include milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), firebush (Hamalia patens), impatiens, lantana, Joey-pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum), firespike (Odontonmea strictum), pentas (older varieties), firecracker plant (Russelia equisetiformis), pineapple sage (Salvia rutilans), Mexican sunflower (Tithonia canadensis) and plumbago (Plumbago auriculate)

Not all adult butterflies feed solely on flower nectar. Some feed on tree sap, rotting fruit such as bananas, dung and rotting meat

Place rotting fruit in shallow, clean containers and replace fruit weekly. To keep ants away, place the container inside a larger container filled with water. This will create a moat to keep out the ants but is still accessible for butterflies

Step 3

Provide shelter for butterflies during bad weather

Select plants that have different heights and growth habits to create horizontal and vertical diversity. Planting the butterfly garden adjacent to a wooded area, would serve the same purpose

Butterfly houses are not substitute shelters during bad weather. The shelters are cute, but butterflies do not use them

Step 4

Provide puddling areas especially during dry weather

Male butterflies form “puddle-clubs” to extract salts and amino acids from soil necessary for mating

There are several ways to create a puddling area and still conserve water. One way is to bury a shallow, plastic storage container, cover the edges with soil, fill the container with sand and wet thoroughly. Mix in a small amount of table salt and a capful of fish emulsion fertilizer to make the area enticing

Step 5

Keep pesticides away from the butterfly garden

 

Terry Brite DelValle is the author of this article and she is a horticulture extension agent with the Duval County Extension Service