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GardenSMART :: Attracting Butterflies - No Matter Where You Live

Attracting Butterflies - No Matter Where You Live

By Lisa Bartlett, Garden Manager, Smith Gilbert Gardens
Photographs courtesy of Lisa Bartlett

Butterfly gardening appeals to both children and adults, with good reason. They are so beautiful it is hard to remember they are insects at all! Whether you live in the city and have only a balcony or you have a home with a bit of land, the following tips will not fail to attract these flying works of art.

Butterflies need but three things to make them happy; sunlight, a nectar source, and host plant for their caterpillars. If you can provide these, then you are well on your way to butterfly gardening.

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Butterflies are cold-blooded and need the light from the sun to warm the muscles they use to fly. Not only do butterflies like the sun, the plants the they thrive on need full direct sun. Most plants need at least 8 hours of sunlight to bloom properly and provide enough nectar.

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Nectar Source

The nectar source does not have to come from flowers. If you have a black thumb don’t worry, you too can still attract butterflies wherever you are. Just slice up an apple, orange or banana and place them on a plate in the sun. Don’t worry, the hungry butterflies will find it. Butterflies taste with their feet, so you will see them investigating, I can assure you. Please use organic produce and do not use pesticides if you want butterflies. They are insects after all; pesticides don’t care how pretty they are.

If you would like a butterfly garden here are few that are a perennial favorite.

  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)
  • Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Coleus (Solenostemon scutellaroides)
  • Lantana (Lantana camara)
  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Pentas (Pentas lanceolata)
  • Passion Flower Vine (Passiflora)
  • Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)

Food Source (Host Plant)

Now that you have attracted the butterflies to your garden and you want them to stay, you will have to provide what is known as a host plant. This is where the third thing that butterflies need comes in. They need a plant to lay an egg on. Butterflies only do this on plants that the caterpillars feed on. A caterpillar’s job in life is to eat and grow. That is why it is so important to grow as much of their favorite food as possible. Caterpillars are picky eaters as well. Monarchs only like Asclepias (milkweed). Swallowtails only like plants in the carrot family like fennel and Queen Anne’s lace and parsley. Following is a list of the most common butterflies with their host plants.

  • Monarch - Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Gulf Fritillary - Passion Flower Vine (Passiflora)
  • Tiger and Black Swallow Tail – wild and cultivated members of the Carrot family, which include fennel and parsley.

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Location, Location, Location

Don’t have enough room for a garden? Live in a home that only has a balcony? Is your balcony sunny and inviting? Then you too can have a butterfly garden! Just put it in a container. This container has all three things to make a butterfly happy. I have left the parsley and fennel in their original containers; everything else is planted. As the caterpillars eat the plant down by half, I will pop that plant out. Then I carefully take the caterpillar off and put her on the fresh plant, insuring she always has enough to eat.

Remember make sure your garden is a pesticide free area. Butterflies are insects and pesticides don’t discriminate.

Lisa Bartlett is the Garden Manager of Smith Gilbert Gardens. Kennesaw Georgia's premier public garden, is an established garden with over 3,000 species of plants, many rare. This garden stands out as an exceptional blend of art, history and horticulture, all creating a tranquil retreat from the city. 


All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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