To attract butterflies, design a garden that provides a long season of flowers that provide nectar. Perennials, such as chives, dianthus, bee balm, butterfly weed, black-eyed Susan, and echinacea, offer a succession of blooms. Add annuals such as cosmos, petunias, and zinnias, that flower all season. Flowers with many small tubular flowers or florets—liatris, goldenrod, and verbena, for example—or those with single flowers, such as French marigold, Shasta daisy, and sunflower.
In addition to planting for adult butterflies, you also need to offer food plants for their caterpillar larvae. Sources can be certain trees and shrubs but also include herbs such as dill, fennel, and parsley, and ‘weedy’ plants like common milkweed and thistles. One of the best-known butterflies, the monarch, lays its eggs only on milkweed then its larvae feed on the plant.
How to tell a male and female Monarch Butterfly…
The male Monarch Butterfly may be easily distinguished from the female by noting the two highly visible black spots on the insect’s hind wings and the thinner black webbing within the wings. The female’s webbing is thicker and she has no identifying wing spot as the male does.
Planning a Child’s Garden
You can add butterfly plants to existing spaces or create a separate garden area especially for the kids. The size of the garden should suit the age of your children; even a space as small as 3 feet by 6 feet will hold enough flowers to attract a few butterflies. If the kids lose interest partway through the season and the garden gets weedy, don’t worry: neatness counts for very little to a butterfly. Color is important since butterflies are attracted first by color so a swath of bright orange butterfly weed or red salvia is easier for them to see. Fragrance is also a significant attractant; butterflies have a keen sense of smell. Find the sunniest spot for the garden. Butterflies need the heat of the sun to raise their body temperatures, which helps them fly.
Plants: Children love to grow from seeds they sow themselves. Some perennials that germinate well in the outdoor garden are chives, butterfly weed, coneflowers, liatris, and yarrow (Achillea). They may not, however, bloom the first year from seed, so include annuals in the plan. For younger children, ages 3 to 7 or 8, use annuals with large seeds, such as French marigolds and zinnias. Sow seeds in color groups, rather than sprinkling them through the bed.
A Container Garden for Butterflies: You can also create a haven for butterflies without a lot of space by planting flowers and herbs in containers. Group three or four large containers together in the corner of a patio or deck for more impact. Here are some instructions on creating butterfly planters. You can also plant trailing annuals, such as petunia and verbena, in hanging baskets. The warmth of the sun is just what butterflies need. Include a saucer of wet sand to provide a welcome puddling spot.
Did you know….
- Antarctica is the only continent on which no Butterflies have been found.
- Butterflies can see red, green, and yellow.
- Many adult butterflies never excrete waste – they use up all they eat for energy.
- Butterflies taste with their feet.
Want to learn more…
To Become a Monarch Waystation: As your butterfly garden grows, think about becoming a Monarch Waystation . A Monarch Waystation is an intentionally-managed garden that provides food and habitat for the struggling Monarch butterfly population. As a rule, a waystation must include at least 2 types of Milkweed, the ‘host’ plant for Monarchs.
For an informative book on monarchs, go to The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly by Kylee Baumle
For even more on butterflies, go to the North American Butterfly Association
For more on the butterfly life cycle, click here.
For science-related butterfly projects, click here.
For listings and photos of the many types of butterflies, click here.
For more information on NGB Pollinator Friendly Flowers, click here
National Garden Bureau credits Eleanore Lewis as the original author of this article.