You don’t really need a special garden to attract butterflies. If there are plants in your garden that appeal to them, butterflies will find them. A true butterfly garden should not just be designed to attract adult butterflies, but also to afford a place for them to hibernate and lay eggs and for the larva, or caterpillars, to feed. Different species of butterflies have different preferences in plants. Many of the plants preferred by butterflies, like milkweed, dogbane, nettles and thistles, are considered weeds by humans and often don’t make it into a butterfly garden. But a wide variety of plants should attract at least a few visitors.
Attracting ButterfliesUnderstanding the Life of a Butterfly: Butterflies start life as eggs laid on plants. These eggs hatch into very tiny caterpillars, or larva, which start eating immediately. First they eat their egg shell and then they begin feeding on their host plant. Unlike adult butterflies which feed on nectar, caterpillars prefer the leaves of plants. At this stage, the butterfly is capable of defoliating your butterfly garden.
The caterpillars must molt, or crawl out of their skins several times before changing into a chrysalis, their pupa stage. An adult butterfly emerges from the pupa and flies off in search of food and host plants for laying its own eggs. This type of development is known as complete metamorphosis.
Selecting Plants: Adult butterflies feed on flower nectar. Some favorite butterfly nectar plants include asters, azalea, bee balm, blueberry, butterfly bush, butterfly weed, coneflower, goldenrod, Impatiens, Joe-Pye weed, lilac, marigolds, verbena and yarrow.
Bright colors seem to attract more butterflies, but more importantly, large swaths of color will make it easier for them to find your garden. Use insecticides sparingly if you hope to attract butterflies. Find out how to make butterflies feel more at home in your garden.