Butterflies are perhaps one of the most appealing critters in the garden. They supply an element of active beauty to the garden, providing you with many hours of interest, enjoyment, and entertainment. Butterfly watching connects people with shared enthusiasm. The simple beauty of a fluttering butterfly is one of nature’s most precious phenomenon and can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Unfortunately, natural habitats of butterflies have been taken away due to urban growth. By planting a butterfly garden, we are doing our part to conserve the ecology.
To lure these “flowers of the air” to your garden, there are several things you can do. A successful butterfly garden contains all components that butterflies need for light, food, shelter, and breeding. Although you don’t have to have a huge garden to catch the attention of passing butterflies, you’ll greatly increase your chances if you provide a hospitable environment. It should be stable and predictable so that over time, the butterflies’ needs are met consistently.
Some butterflies, such as Monarchs, are migratory, and you may only find them at certain times of the year. Others will visit more frequently, provided they are satisfied at each stage of their life cycle. Butterflies have four life cycles, which constitute complete metamorphosis: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. A natural setting for butterflies is both attractive and essential to their well-being. As a rule, pesticides and herbicides should never be used in or near a butterfly garden. So before spraying for that pest that is chewing on your favorite plant, check your resources to make sure it is not a beautiful butterfly in its oftentimes unattractive larval stage. Understanding the nature of butterflies and knowing their life stages will help you plan your garden.
Nectar and larval plants will need to be supplied for food. The nectar plants will support the adult butterfly, and the larval plants will sustain the actively growing caterpillars. By offering food for both stages of the butterfly’s life, you’ll have a better chance of keeping them around. Caterpillars need to munch on the foliage, so don’t expect perfect looking plants. Many caterpillars have specific tastes, so those that suit their fancy can be tucked away in the back corner of the garden, where they may not be as noticeable. Don’t worry about being overrun with caterpillars. Although an adult butterfly may lay hundreds of eggs, only a few usually survive to adulthood.
Larval plants may include a wide assortment of annuals, herbs, perennials, trees, and shrubs. A few of these included in caterpillar diets are Ageratum, Marigolds, Snapdragons, Dill, Mountain Mint, Fennel, Parsley, Grasses, Sedges, Sedum, Queen Anne’s Lace, Birch, Sassafras, and Tulip poplar. Different species of caterpillars will feed on different host plants. For example, the Monarch butterfly larva is particularly selective and will feed only on those plants in the Milkweed (Asclepias ssp.) family. Not only is the larva receiving nutrients, but it is also gaining a defense mechanism. The Milkweed provides the caterpillar with chemicals that make it unpalatable to predators.