Expert Advice

How to Create a Butterfly Garden

Posted on March 17, 2019

Monarch butterfly resting on a verbena plant

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Attracting these fantastic fluttering fancies to your garden is easy. With the right plants and understanding the needs of the butterfly, you will not only have these winged beauties in your backyard but get them to stay longer!

Butterflies have 4 generations born each season. The first 3 only live a short time, usually 6-10 weeks, spring through late summer.  The last generation lives for months and makes the long journey to and from their winter locations.  Butterflies require the same basic elements of many creatures; food, water, shelter.

You will need to consider food sources for the young caterpillars as well as host plants for shelter and flowering plants for nectar once the butterflies reach adulthood.  Your garden should contain an assortment of plants that they prefer in bloom during these peak times so that more varied the species of butterfly will visit your yard.    Herbs such as parsley and dill make great food sources for the young caterpillars. Why not plant a patch just for them to munch on?  Annuals from alyssum, lantana, petunias to zinnias can provide not only color to your garden throughout the summer but a great source of nectar.    Many native perennials are butterfly magnets as well – butterfly weed, cardinal flower and coneflower.  Shrubs like butterfly bush, smooth hydrangea and summersweet shrub not only provide a food source but shelter as well.   By layering plants and staggering bloom times you will have a constant food supply and they will never want to leave!

Butterfly houses and insect houses of all types are beneficial as well.  Providing safe havens for our friendly pollinators helps them find food close by and increases our success in the garden.  It’s a win – win for everyone.  More flowers, more fruit, more vegetables, easily done with better pollination.

Lastly, a good clean water source is essential.  This can be done by placing a saucer on the ground filled with sand, pebbles or gravel, keeping damp.  The butterflies will land and draw minerals from the water by “puddling”.  You can even tempt them providing fruit that is overripe.  Slice to expose the flesh of the fruit and set out it the garden as an appetizer!  Melons, citrus, bananas, strawberries and such work very well proving a tasty treat.

We are lucky to have over 200 varieties and moths and butterflies here on Long Island, how many can you tempt into your garden?

Plants that Attract Butterflies

Annuals: Ageratum, Alyssum, Million Bells, Cosmo, Lantana, Marigold, Penta, Petunia, Zinnia

Herbs: Dill, Fennel, Parsley, Sage

Tall Perennials: Aster, Bee Balm, Black-Eye Susan, Butterfly Weed, Cardinal Flower, Coneflower, False Indigo, Garden Phlox, Goldenrod, Joe-Pye Weed, Liatris, Lupine, Milkweed, Sedum, Tickseed, Turtlehead

Low-Growing Perennials: Aster, Bleeding Heart, Columbine, Creeping Phlox, Hardy Geraniums, Violas

Shrubs: Azalea, Blueberries, Butterfly Bush, Contoneaster, Daphne, Fothergilla, Red Twig Dogwood, Smooth Hydrangea, St. Johnswort, Summersweet, Viburnum

Vines: Dutchman’s Pipe, Honeysuckle, Virginia Creeper, Wisteria

Trees: Dogwood, Eastern Red Bud, Red Maple, White Oak, Sourwood

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