Butterflies are increasingly losing habitat to highways, homes and shopping centers. This is called ‘progress’, but I don’t see it that way. When we destroy wild lands, we are destroying food and shelter for hundreds of species of animals, from tiny bugs that burrow in the soil to large mammals, such as elk and bear. Home gardeners and even farmers need to provide what development takes away.
We also need to provide pesticide-free food for birds and insects. A large part of the recent bee die-offs is due to chemical pesticides. Organic gardeners help maintain insect and bird populations as well as encourage their reproduction.
Where to begin
First, visit The Butterfly Site to see which butterflies are native to your area, and then cater to them with native plants. You need to provide nectar with certain plant species and a host plant for laying eggs with other species.
Adult butterflies lay eggs on the host plant. The eggs hatch into caterpillars that eat the leaves of their home and shelter. After going through several stages of metamorphosis, they pupate and emerge as butterflies again. The adults now need flower nectar for food, not leaves.
Here in New Mexico, the Western Tiger Swallowtail is a native butterfly. This is its natural territory. To attract them, I need to plant Zinnias and Thistles for nectar, and Aspen and Cottonwood trees as host plants. A friend of mine got a photo of a Swallowtail drinking from an orange zinnia a couple weeks ago! The photo below is a Blue Acmon drinking from an Echinacea in my front yard – native butterfly on native plant.
A butterfly garden can be a few containers on your porch, a manicured flowerbed or a section of your yard that is wild. Farmers can plant wild areas around their fields where tractors cannot reach with their implements. They can also plant rows of annual flowers for cutting and selling.
Choose nectar plants with bright colors. Butterflies are near-sighted, so large groupings of colorful flowers are easy for them to see and find. Also, be aware of bloom times for perennials and shrubs. Some bloom for just a couple of weeks, others bloom all summer. This is a good reason to plant annual flowers that bloom all the time. As far as garden design, they provide color while perennials are coming and going. For butterflies, they provide a consistent source of food.
Butterflies are cold blooded, so they bask in the sun to warm themselves. Be sure to leave open sunny spaces as well as cover for shade and to get out of the wind and rain. They also love puddles! You can create a small puddle by sinking a shallow dish into the soil and filling it with water.
As I already stated, pesticides are killing off birds and insects. People as well, but that not what I’m here to talk about. Please garden organically for everyone and everything’s benefit!
Native plants need little maintenance. They are adapted to the climate and soils. This is a main benefit of having them in your garden – they need little care. I have a large bed of native plants, and I do not fertilize it, I have no bugs in it, and I only water it in very dry years. Native plants are the best things for attracting all sorts of native wildlife, not just butterflies.
Adding compost to the soil of a manicured flowerbed makes plants healthy and able to withstand insects and diseases. It reduced the need for intervention. The best way to repel insects is with companion plants, such as marigolds. You can also introduce beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, to your garden. They feast on the bugs that eat your beautiful plants. If necessary, you can hand pick bugs and squish them, or use home made or commercial insecticidal soap. These are organic means or pest control. Please don’t use chemicals!
A butterfly garden will give you a peek into their lives as they bask in the sun, perform their mating rituals, play in and get nutrients from puddles, and eat! Look for a chrysalis on a host plant and observe the metamorphosis. Butterflies are a wonderful introduction to nature for children, and you can be sure you will have benefitted the environment.