The best gardens provide both beautify and function, and a butterfly garden tops the list for both beauty and function. Butterflies need four things to attract them – flowers for food, moisture for puddling, sun for energy and plants to host their offspring. All the basic elements to attract ‘flying flowers’ to your landscape can be found in your existing vegetable or flower garden, just add a couple of components and you will be attracting a variety of colorful flying flowers to your landscape. Or you may want to use these tips for creating a butterfly garden and create a dedicated space just for attracting and breeding butterflies.
The primary food for butterflies is flower nectar. The color or type of flower is not as important as the amount of nectar produced by the bloom and shape of the flower. You are as likely to spot a butterfly on a wild daisy as you are a cucumber bloom in your garden, the flat bloom is what attracts them. Just as hummingbirds prefer tubular shaped blooms to dip their long bills in to, butterflies prefer flat blooms on which they can land and rest while they enjoy a meal of nectar. Zinnias, coneflowers, violets, pansies and nasturtiums favorite food-producers for butterflies and the latter three are also provide food for humans. Keep some type of flower blooming from spring through fall as a bright ‘welcome’ sign and if you want a larger or fragrant plant to provide food for butterflies, a butterfly bush tops the list in both categories.
Nectar is not all the flying flowers consume, they enjoy the juice of overripe fruit too. Toss slices of overripe apples, bananas and melons near blooming vegetable plants or flowers for an added butterfly attraction in your landscape. And one other flavor these delicate creatures enjoy is a taste of that seems out of line with their beauty, and that is the flavor of fresh cow manure. Fortunately, fresh cow manure is a perfect marriage with any garden plant, just place a shovel-full near plants (be careful not to touch the plant base as the fresh cow manure will burn the tender plant stem) and the butterflies will land on it. As the fresh cow manure rots, it will be absorbed into the soil and feed garden plants.
Most everyone has seen this phenomenon but few know what it is called. Puddling is the term used for a group of butterflies gathered together on a puddle or around the edge of a large mud hole. The butterflies are sucking minerals out of the damp soil that they need for optimum health. Create a puddling spot within the garden by burying a recycled pie tin up to it’s rim and fill it with mix of sandy soil and keep it moist at all times.
The flight of a butterfly is powered by solar energy and the flowering flowers need a sunny dock on which to recharge their built-in batteries every morning. Rocks or concrete on the east side of the garden will receive the first rays of morning sun and attract butterflies to come and spread their wings and absorb the solar power for flight.
One final element is needed to make the garden perfect for the flying flowers and that is a place to lay their eggs. Host plants are needed to house the eggs and feed the larvae and caterpillars and keep everything protected until a new butterfly emerges. Native plants and garden offerings like carrots, parsley, dill and fennel provide the best breeding ground and host plants to incorporate into your butterfly garden.