The flowers that a butterfly loves are often the same flowers you might have in your cutting garden. Butterfly gardens should be planted in full sun.
Some of the staples in a butterfly garden are Monarda (Bee Balm), Echinacea purpurea (purple cone flower), gaillardia (blanket flower), day lilies, yarrows, garden phlox, black eyed Susan, daisies, and hollyhocks.
There are many more. Butterflies like flat, daisy shaped flowers that are easy to land on and flowers that are rich in fragrant aromas.
The picture above is a newly hatched Monarch resting on a cosmos flower.
Butterflies are nectar eaters. They are not attracted to flowers by their smell, but by the amount of nectar a plant produces. Their larva eats leaves,though, and depending on the type of butterfly you want to attract, you'll need to provide appropriate food sources.
A few years ago a milkweed plant surfaced in my garden. I didn’t remove it, and soon I had monarch butterfly eggs on several of the leaves. I was thrilled. Since then the milkweeds have multiplied and so have the monarch butterflies. I have successfully raised and released many, many monarch butterflies.
Below is a milkweed plant growing next to black eyed Susans. Both plants self seed and surprise me with their new locations every year.
Below is a beautiful yellow swallowtail resting on a day lily.
If you’re more interested in having swallowtails, you’ll need to plant things like parsley, dill, and Queen-Anne’s Lace. I had Queen-Anne’s Lace in my garden for a couple of years, but it became invasive and was taking over everything. I had to remove most of it, but if you have a big enough space, a naturalized garden, or a prairie garden, it can be a welcome addition to your garden.
I do plant parsley every year, though-and it's more for the butterflies than it is for my own use.
Lately, I’m having a little trouble with too many milkweeds, too, but my family has had so much fun raising monarch butterflies that I put up with them. What I do now is let some plants remain, but I’m vigilant about pulling up the many seedlings. Later in the summer, I will let a few new milkweeds grow because by then we’ve used up the bigger plants and monarchs lay eggs three or four times in a season.
Below is a large milkweed in bloom. By the way if you've never smelled a milkweed blossom, you should. They have a beautiful sweet scent.
I remove leaves off the milkweed plants when I find leaves that contain eggs and put them in insect boxes, and wrap the base of the leaf in a damp paper towel to keep the leaf fresh.
I do this because I think they're safer there. I'm not sure but I think ants and pincher bugs eat the eggs (which by the way look like tiny, white, conical shaped balls-usually found on the underside of milkweed leaves).
Within a few days the tiny caterpillars hatch. During this stage, the caterpillars live entirely on the milkweed leaves, so I usually pick at least one new, fresh leaf a day for them.
If I find caterpillars already hatched, I also remove these from the garden and raise them in the cages, too. Since finding the first eggs, I have given caterpillars to several neighborhood children, and three of my grandchildren.
My butterfly garden has become a haven for small children. They come to look for caterpillars and to get food for their small pets. When the caterpillars are fully grown (in about 2 weeks); they will form a chrysalis at the top of their enclosure.
About two weeks after that they will hatch into butterflies and we will release them back into the garden. This is a fascinating process to watch and a wonderful way to acquaint children to nature in the garden.
We also found quite by accident that tiny tree frogs love the butterfly garden. Several times in the last couple of years we have found tree frogs clinging to the stems of the milkweed plants. They’re delightful little creatures and it’s always a special day when we see one.
The one below is clinging to a purple coneflower.
Once you realize that many beneficial insects and creatures live in your garden, you will view spraying your garden with insecticides in a different light. I never have done this, but I know people do. Spraying is used to kill pests that might be destroying a certain plant, but the sprays will indiscriminately kill all the caterpillars you are trying to encourage to live in your garden.
It is better for your garden if you hand pick off destructive insects. If you can’t do this, use your sprays very carefully. Try not to do it on a windy day and if possible only spray the affected plant-not your whole garden.
Butterfly Gardens are easy to grow and easy to maintain. The flowers can be enjoyed in your garden and many can also be cut to enjoy in your house.
Below is a monarch butterfly enjoying the garden.
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