As the days continue to get longer and warmer, that marks the start of the garden season. And if you want your backyard or patio to be a haven for butterflies, it’s not just planting any type of flower to get them there. There has to be a bit of strategy to it. Here are some ways to have a garden that doubles as a butterfly sanctuary.
Butterflies are actually near-sighted, but they are very good at distinguishing color, including even ultraviolet light, with their favorite colors being orange, purple, white, red, pink, and yellow (via SFGATE). So go bright for the flowers, and consider that near-sightedness trait of the butterfly. If you plant large blocks of bright colored flowers versus just single flowers, it can help draw butterflies to your garden from a farther distance (via ThoughtCo).
While butterflies don’t have noses the way that we do, they can sense scent through chemical receptors in their antennae, tongues, and feet, so flowers with a strong fragrance are butterfly favorites. They’re also fans of flowers with lots of tiny blossoms, like “yarrow, lilacs, phlox, buddleia, goldenrod, or Queen Anne’s lace” (via the Old Farmer’s Almanac).
It’s not just about the flowers as food sources for adult butterflies, though. You need to consider where butterflies like to lay eggs and what caterpillars like to eat (per the Old Farmer’s Almanac). Some plants can do double duty, like the aptly named butterfly bush.
To attract monarch butterflies, milkweed is a must
On their top 25 butterfly garden plants, Plant Delights Nursery ranks the butterfly bush (Buddleia) as the best. It provides nectar for a large number of butterfly species and its leaves can work as food for some butterfly larvae. As you might guess from the name, it is indeed a bush, so make sure to have space for it when it gets to its max size of anywhere from 3-8 feet tall, depending on the species (via Plant Delights Nursery).
Coming in second and third on their list are butterfly flower (Asclepias) and coneflower (Echinacea). Butterfly flower is a milkweed variety. And if you want your garden to appeal to monarch butterflies, milkweed is a must.
Planting a milkweed variety that’s native to your area gives a place for the migratory butterflies to lay their eggs and provides food for the larvae (via Monarch Joint Venture). Milkweed is the only host plant that a monarch will use. Don’t just fill the garden with milkweed though. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the adult monarch likes to visit all kinds of flowers for nectar.
Once you’ve put in the work to bring all the butterflies to your yard, you can get your butterfly garden certified with the North American Butterfly Association. Requirements for certification include having at least three plants that are butterfly nectar sources and three plants that are food resources for caterpillars.
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