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 is 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.
Incorporate a few rocks in the design. Butterflies often rest on rocks, which reflect the heat of the sun. Edge the garden with rounded rocks, put a small pile towards one side, or make a path through the flowers with flat stepping stones. Create a place where water can collect with a concave rock or a pot saucer filled with wet sand (Moisten the sand periodically if it doesn’t rain). Butterflies “puddle” in such spots—the perfect opportunity for kids to watch them up close. Or our NGB member Gardeners Supply has a Butterfly Puddler available.
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…
Teach Your Children more about Monarchs with The Story of Chester, the Monarch Caterpillar/Larva. This lovely children’s photo storybook incorporates accurate science about the monarch butterfly life cycle with an engaging story and exquisite photographs. The book satisfies the STEM curriculum in Pre-K thru 3rd grade; and children ages 3 thru 10 love Chester.
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.
Go to the North American Butterfly Association for even more on butterflies.
To learn about the butterfly life cycle, click here.
Science-related butterfly projects, can be found here.
Lists and photos of the many types of butterflies, are found here.
For more information on NGB Pollinator Friendly Flowers, click here
National Garden Bureau credits Eleanore Lewis as the original author of this article.
“This post is provided as an educational/inspirational service of the National Garden Bureau and our members. Please credit and link to National Garden Bureau and author member if applicable when using all or parts of this article.”