Gardening for Butterflies
Many Pagans consider nature to be sacred and enjoy inviting the wild creatures of our neighborhood to share our gardens with us. A butterfly garden is an excellent way to do this. With just a little extra work and consideration in the selection of your plants, you can create a haven for butterflies that will also attract bees, birds and many other delightful creatures. Their energy will, in turn, transform your garden into a delightful haven that brings comfort to you and anyone else who spends time in it.
Providing for Butterflies Needs
Select a spot for your garden that is sunny, but sheltered from the wind. The garden should get 5-6 hours of sunlight per day. Because butterflies are cold-blooded creatures who need to external warmth to help them regulate their bodies, they like to be in the warm sun, but don’t like to fight winds. It is helpful to provide a few flat rocks in sunny places for the butterflies to rest on and sun themselves as well as some shady spots to get out of the heat if needed.
Butterflies, like everybody, need to drink. You can provide a water source for them by keeping a shallow mud puddle moist, maintaining a shallow fountain, or just putting out a little dish with water in it for them. The key word here is shallow. I’ve lost caterpillars to drowning in empty pots that I let fill up with rainwater, so it pays to be diligent in cleaning up anything that could hold standing water more than an inch or two deep. This will also prevent the proliferation of mosquitoes, whose presence can interfere with your enjoyment of your butterfly guests. Filling a container with river rocks and keeping it filled just so the tops of some, but not all, of the rocks are covered with water is another solution to the problems of both drowning caterpillars and breeding mosquitoes, but they will get slimy after a while and may require maintenance.
Some people like to put out butterfly feeders. This is really not necessary, but it can be fun, and it doesn’t hurt anything. The best thing to use in the feeders is just plain old sugar water. Setting out pieces of overripe fruit, such as apple, banana and citrus fruit, will also help keep your butterflies happy, but it will also attract wasps who may prey on your caterpillars.
Don’t Kill Your Butterflies
If you use pesticides in your garden, you will kill the butterflies and caterpillars- it’s as simple as that. Resist the urge and go organic. It’s better for you in the long run. If the caterpillars are eating your favorite plant, plant more! Or you could look into a book on the subject and find another plant the caterpillars will eat and move them.
I have never actually seen a butterfly use a butterfly house, but I am told that they do and that they can retire to them to escape predators and extreme temperatures. You can find wooden butterfly houses and garden centers and craft stores. They are also reasonably easy to make.
Love Your Caterpillars
Inviting butterflies to your garden can mean caterpillars, so be prepared to share. Plant a variety of plants that caterpillars like and they will nibble at all your treasured herbs, and hopefully not just your one precious. If they seem to be most interested in a specific plant; grow more! Soon, you’ll have a new batch of butterflies to enjoy!
Some plants that caterpillars eat are:
parsley, dill, milkweed, fennel, hackberry, violets, clover, snapdragons, Queen Anne’s Lace, Joe-Pye-weed, Peas, Fruit Trees, alfalfa and more
Adult butterflies eat nectar, for the most part, so you’ll want to fill your garden with long-blooming, fragrant flowers. When planting flowers to attract butterflies, you’ll want to plant flowers with varying blooming times to keep the butterflies attracted all season long.
If you have limited space and/or experience, a good, simple combination for a starter garden that pleases both adult butterflies and their larvae is – Buddleia, violet, verbena, parsley, dill, fennel, milkweed, coneflower, lantana, cosmos, and zinnias. You can expand your garden as the years go by and you get more experienced and adventurous.
A quick and easy fix for a butterfly garden is a native plant mix designed for your region. Make sure your plant mix says “native” and isn’t just composed of plants that do well in your region because those can invade non-natives and invasives. Native plants are those that the butterflies local to your area evolved with, non-native plants may or may not be compatible with them. Most native plants are evolved to drop seeds at the end of the season and are triggered to sprout by the natural temperature and moisture variations of your local winter and spring, so autumn is the perfect time to spread seeds in an area that’s been cleared for planting.