The flutterby of a butterfly is a delight to everyone. The sight of nature’s equivalent of stained glass floating effortlessly over the garden makes us want to smile. What better place for them than the haven and sanctuary of a home garden complete with nectar producing herbs? This year make your garden –whether just a couple of containers or winding garden beds – a place for nature’s butterflies.
What Butterflies Need
It doesn’t take much to make your backyard butterfly-friendly. You can begin by including some butterfly-friendly herbs in this year’s garden. Some herbs that support their life cycle by providing food and shelter for caterpillars. Others produce nectar for adults.
Many butterfly lifecycles are tied to the blooming of their favorite nectar plants. In the spring onion chives will attract butterflies with their light purple pom-pom flower heads. Bee balm, catnip, and various mints are next up with their blossoms. Rosemary, echinacea, and yarrow provide nectar throughout the summer and into the fall.
A true butterfly garden also includes food for the caterpillar young. Female butterflies seek out specific host plants to lay their eggs. Dill, fennel, rue, and parsley are favored by various members of the swallowtail family. Peppermint and lemon verbena attract the White Peacock. Black mustard brings in the Checkered White and Cabbage White.
Butterflies enjoy a good drink on a hot day, just like us. But with their small and delicate legs they can’t wade into a water dish. Instead they sip at the edge of shallow muddy puddles or while standing on pebbles at the edge of water. You may not want to have a permanent mud puddle for butterflies but you can provide drinking water by filling a saucer with pebbles or small rocks and filling it with just enough water to not quite cover the stones.
Like all God’s creatures they need food and water but they also like a place to stop and rest. Because butterflies are cold-blooded they need sunshine to keep their wings warm and flexible for flight. Where possible grow these butterfly-friendly plants in a sunny area that is sheltered from high winds.
A Butterfly Friendly Shopping List
There are hundreds of plants (native and non-native) that support the butterfly lifecycle. Although I can’t begin to list them all, here are some herbs, ornamental flowers and native plants you can grow.
- Herbs – sage, Joe Pye weed, dill, fennel, parsley, rue, yarrow, mustard, thyme, basil, oregano
- Ornamental Flowers – asters, candytuft, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, phlox, zinnias, marigolds, alyssum, snapdragons, hollyhocks, butterfly bush, lantanas, cosmos
- Native Plants – bluebonnets, goldenrod, milkweed, thistle, Turk’s cap, passionflower, bee balm, purple coneflowers, blue mist flowers
Plant butterfly-friendly plants in groups of three or more where possible. Adult butterflies have relatively poor eyesight. The bigger the target the more likely they are to find it as they fly along. A larger planting also means when caterpillars emerge from the eggs and begin to munch on your parsley or phlox you won’t begrudge them the lost leaves.
To Learn More About Butterflies
For the serious butterfly enthusiasts there are several resources on the Internet. You can purchase butterfly houses and nectar feeding kits, subscribe to newsletters, and even get involved with conservation.
- Butterfly Gardening – www.butterflygardening.org
- Missouri Botanical Garden Butterfly House – www.butterflyhouse.org
- The Butterfly Site – www.thebutterflysite.com
- Monarch Watch – www.monarchwatch.org
- North American Butterfly Association – www.naba.org