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Providing a Healthy Environment for Butterflies

Designing Butterfly Gardens: Sun, Moisture, Shelter


The plants used for drawing hummingbirds to the backyard are often recommended for attracting butterflies, as well. But the optimal butterfly garden requires a slightly different design from that of the hummingbird garden. Since Pages 1, 2 and 3 have already covered the plants used for attracting butterflies, the purpose of the present page is to provide information concerning these design nuances. The idea is to create just the right environment to lure these winged wonders.

To begin, remember that, for all their beauty, butterflies are insects, and they are therefore cold-blooded. Consequently, a butterfly garden should be an open, sunny garden, because the butterfly needs sunlight to warm its body. No matter how conscientious you've been in selecting plants for attracting butterflies, not many of your winged friends will visit your garden unless the temperature reaches at least 60°F. Furnish your butterfly gardens with flat rocks that will warm up in the sun. Butterflies will use these as basking perches.

But even cold-blooded creatures can get too hot sometimes. Furnish butterfly gardens with damp areas, too, so that your butterflies will have a place to take a break from the heat. Because butterflies can't drink from open water sources, a birdbath just won't do.

Instead, supply an area with moist sand or mud. Certain types of butterflies congregate around such mud puddles to cool off, and perhaps also to imbibe the salts and other needed minerals that have been dissolved in the water. Also furnish your butterfly garden with shelter from high winds. Trees and shrubs can provide such shelter. While you're at it, you might as well choose trees that butterfly larvae can also derive food from (see Page 2 for some options).

Avoid using insecticides if you're committed to attracting butterflies to your backyard. Most garden insecticides are lethal to caterpillars. Adult butterflies also can be killed simply by coming into contact with surfaces tainted by insecticide. All of your work in designing a butterfly garden will go for naught if you end up killing the butterflies with insecticide.

To review, the successful butterfly garden consists of the following components:

  • Host plants for caterpillars.
  • Nectar plants for adults.
  • Abundant sunshine.
  • Wet sand or mud puddles in shady nooks.
  • Shelter from high winds.
  • An environment kept healthy through the absence of insecticides.

Note: Thanks to the "Butterfly Gardens" group at GardenWeb for help with this article.

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