Consider the exquisite monarch: the only plant it will lay its eggs on is Asclepias (milkweed). This plant is native to nearly all of the U.S., is hardy in Zones 3-9, and used to be found all over the place. Yet today it is difficult for monarchs to find, and their numbers have dropped to dangerously low levels. If you plant Asclepias in a region through which monarchs pass, you’ll be providing them with a nursery! Read how to attract monarchs here.
You might like to grow dill, parsley, and fennel for culinary reasons, but did you know that black swallowtail butterflies need them as a place to lay their eggs? By including these plants in your garden, you’ll be helping black swallowtails become more plentiful.
Creating a Safe Butterfly Environment
One thing to understand before you start planting is that butterflies and pesticides do not mix. Butterflies are very sensitive creatures and even natural pesticides and herbicides can cause problems and even kill the eggs they’ve laid on the host plants you’ve provided. Instead, when it comes to both the nectar and host plants, use the old-fashioned method of picking pests off by hand. You can also release ladybugs to go after the pests for you. That is what they do at the Smithsonian Gardens, and it will work for you, too.
But be sure you don’t squish the larvae, thinking it’s an infestation of something pesky. To be sure you know what butterflies look like at every stage of their development, here is a great resource.
Perfecting Your Butterfly Garden
Provide the butterflies with opportunities to bask in the sun by placing a few flat stones around the garden. As for water, just keep your garden irrigated: the butterflies will use any tiny puddles as watering holes. If you live in a windy area, position your butterfly-attracting plants along a hedge, fence, or wall. And, again, be sure there is no pesticide or herbicide residue around the area where the butterflies are going to be eating and laying their eggs.
Expanding Your Knowledge
As with everything concerning gardening, there’s always more to learn. To view a comprehensive list of plants that attract butterflies, try Gardening for Butterflies, from Iowa State University. How to Make Butterfly Gardens from the University of Kentucky also contains a good list and a lot of helpful information.
If You Plant It, They Will Come
We wish you much success in attracting butterflies to your garden, and please don’t get overwhelmed by the amount of information here. All you need to do to get started is to plant some butterfly-attracting plants in a sunny place and use non-chemical methods of pest control. Enjoy yourself, and know that your butterfly friends will appreciate your efforts.
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