Attracting butterflies to your garden

Our Gateway Learning Gardens at the Clark County Extension office actually move in the summer months! There are so many butterflies flitting about the entire garden comes alive.

Gardeners sometimes hit upon the right mix of plants and tactics that butterflies are automatically attracted. However, if your garden seems to lack these beautiful critters, here is what you can do.

Butterflies have basic requirements; they need a food source, a place to lay their eggs, an environment that isn’t too windy, and water.

The food source that you provide needs to take in consideration both the adult and the larvae (caterpillars). In addition, butterflies love the sun. Therefore, look for a sunny protected area to plant a butterfly garden or incorporate the right plants into an existing garden that meets these criteria.

Adults have high-energy requirements and look for nectar plants high in sugar. An adult butterfly may visit lots of different plants to gather nectar.

Plants with flowers that are fragrant and red, yellow, orange, pink, or purple are attractive to butterflies. In addition, they prefer flowers with flat heads that have multiple florets such as yarrow and asters. They can land easily on these and sip nectar.

In addition, plant a mix of annuals and perennials so that you have bloom all growing season.

You also need to have plants for the adult butterflies to lay their eggs. Female adult butterflies know which plants their young caterpillars will be able to eat in order to thrive.

For instance, monarch butterfly caterpillars feed on milkweed plants. These are a bit challenging if planted in the home garden as they tend to spread easily.

I have a field of milkweed in the back of my property that is perfect for this use. Check around your neighborhood to see what’s in some of the fields and fence rows.

Parsely (and plants in this family) is a favorite of the black swallowtail. Again, a nearby field of Queen Anne’s lace is good, too.

The larvae plants are critical. Remember these are caterpillars that eat foliage. You have to be ready to tolerate damage to these plants in order for the larvae to continue into adulthood.

In addition, if you are trying to attract butterflies, be exceptionally cautious about using pesticides in the garden.

In terms of water, a mud-puddle after a rain is perfect.

There are lots of resources to help you get started. Decide the types of butterflies that you would like to attract and grow the plants they prefer in a sunny, windless area of your landscape.

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