A lot of people choose to start or maintain butterfly gardens for a variety of reasons, such as joy of gardening, to help endangered butterfly species, for children to enjoy, and so on. If you’ve never gardened before, or you don’t know a lot about butterflies, you may feel intimidated by the prospect of growing your own butterfly garden, but it really is easier than you think!
Photo: Yuichi Kageyama on Unsplash
First, you need to pick a good spot. Butterflies are cold-blooded and warm their bodies in the sun, so you will want to find an area that’s exposed to sunlight for at least six hours a day. You’ll also want to make sure there are tall shrubs, vines or trees in this area to shelter your garden and its butterfly visitors from strong winds, and offer a place to rest at night to keep them safe from predators.
Butterflies also need water, but not like a bird bath for birds- just a damp, sandy area will work, sheltered away from the wind so it won’t dry out. A birdbath or something similar will be too deep and dangerous for the butterflies to drink from.
After you’ve picked your spot, it’s time to do some work on the biggest part of your garden: the plants. Depending on where you live, certain plants will be native to your area, favored by the butterflies in your area, and harder or easier to grow. That being said, you’ll want plant diversity- making sure you have lots of different heights and types of plants to attract different kinds of butterflies and decrease their need to travel from plant to plant. You’ll also want to focus on planting nectar and host plants: plants that butterflies and caterpillars feed from to grow.
Host plants for caterpillars can include aster, parsley, dill, fennel, milkweed, and white clover.
Nectar plants for butterflies can include the aptly named butterfly bush, phlox, anise hyssop, butterfly weed, aster, purple coneflower, salvia, lantana, pentas, passionflower, Mexican sunflower, cosmos, heliotrope, larkspur, South American verbena, alyssum, zinnia, and black-eyed Susan.
After you’ve chosen your plants, the actual gardening process can begin. Be sure to research when the best time to begin planting in your area is, as it does vary from climate to climate and those distinctions are important to ensure your garden’s health and survival.
If you’ve read through all of this and felt bummed because you just don’t have the space for a full fledged butterfly garden, never fear! Container gardens are just as helpful for butterflies and enjoyable for you. Some great container plants that butterflies love include lantana, scarlet milkweed, butterfly bush, parsley or dill.
With spring peeking around the corner, now is the perfect time to begin planning for a garden or gardening activities. Start a butterfly garden of your own, or participate in a community venture. It’s a great way to get outdoors, breathe in the fresh air and feel the spring sunlight again!
Lilia Taylor is 21 years old, studying English and Marketing at New Mexico State University. She hopes to have a job involving books someday, loves the smell of coffee (not so much the taste) and tries to get outside whenever she can.