Attracting Butterflies

Find out how you can attract more of these "flying flowers"

You may have noticed that butterfly populations have decreased dramatically over the past 20-30 years. This is due in part to widespread pesticide use as well as herbicide use that is killing off the host plants the caterpillars must feed off of before turning into butterflies. You may have seen campaigns that are trying to “Save the Monarchs”, but all butterflies are in some danger, depending on where they are in the world.

Following are some tips you can use in your own yard to help attract butterflies and help them to survive another year.

  1. Stop using broad spectrum herbicides that kill plants indiscriminately. If you need to control a weed in your lawn, it is best to pull that weed by hand or with a weed pulling tool rather than using chemicals. If you must use a chemical, use the least toxic method and only direct the herbicide on the plant you are trying to get rid of rather than spraying it on the whole lawn.
  2. Stop using broad spectrum pesticides. Pesticides not only kill nuisance bugs, but the good insects that are not only pollinators, but insects that help control the bad bugs as well. Healthy plants can usually withstand a short infestation of insects. A sharp spray of water, several times a day, is usually enough to help control bugs like aphids, until their cycle is finished. To learn more about controlling pests, check out our Pestbusters Series here. Make sure to read the Introduction first.
  3. Butterflies love the sun, so if your yard has some sunny, open locations, you will be sure to attract more butterflies.
  4. Butterflies need protection from wind and storms. Butterflies will attach themselves to the underside of large leaves and will hide in tall grasses and between rocks, so a variety of plants is important in your landscape. I’ve seen butterfly houses for sale, but honestly, I have never seen a butterfly use one. They are pretty though and can make nice garden art.
  5. Butterflies need a source for water. Butterflies generally like to sit on wet sand or mud puddles where they will extract water and minerals from the ground. An easy way to accomplish this is to fill a shallow pan with course sand and rain water and then place it on the ground in your butterfly garden. Check the pan daily to make sure the sand is moist. If you don’t have rain water to keep the sand moist, well water is the next best thing. If you have public water, allow the chlorine to evaporate from the water for a couple of days before adding it to the sand.
  6. Butterflies love flowers that can provide them with nectar. Following is a list of plants that butterflies commonly visit in the garden: Aster, Black-Eyed Susan, Butterfly Bush, Cardinal Flower, Coneflower (Echinacea), Coreopsis, Cosmos, Dianthus, Dogwood, Lantana, Marigold, Milkweed, Passion Flower Vine, Petunia, Salvia, Shasta Daisy, Sunflower, Verbana, Violt, Yarrow, and Zinnia.
  7. Butterflies especially need host plants where they can lay their eggs. Host plants generally will be chewed up by caterpillars, so put them in an out of the way place in the garden where they are less noticeable. Following is a list of butterflies and the host plants they need to survive (this is by no means a complete list, but is a good place to start):

  • Anise Swallowtail – Citrus, Lomatium, Sweet Fennel
  • Black Swallowtail – Carrot, Dill, Fennel, Parsley
  • Checkered Skipper – Hollyhock, Mallow
  • Common Hairstreak – Hollyhock, Mallow, Rose Mallow
  • Dogface Butterfly – False Indigo, Prairie Clover
  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail – Coneflowers, Sycamore, Willow
  • Monarch – Milkweed
  • Morning Cloak – Aspen, Cottonwood, Elm, Willow
  • Orange Sulfur – Alfalfa, Pea, Vetch
  • Painted Lady – Coneflowers, Hollyhock, Sunflower, Thistle
  • Western Tiger Swallowtail – Chokecherry, Cottonwood, Willow
  • Wood Nymph – Grasses
  • Zebra Swallowtail – Pawpaw

Some other plants that are a host for several types of butterflies are Aspen, Aster, Black-Eyed Susan, Dogwood, Echinacea (Coneflowers), Elm, False Indigo, False Nettle, Passion Flower Vine, Violets and Willow. As you can see, some of these plants are also good nectar plants as well. You may want to research what butterflies are prevalent in your area and grow more of those host plants. If I had to pick one host plant to grow, it would be Milkweed since monarchs are in grave danger.

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How to Grow Milkweed

Learn how to grow milkweed so that you can attract more monarch butterflies.

Attracting Pollinators

Find out why it's important to attract pollinators to your yard and how to do it.

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