4 Steps to Building a Beautiful Butterfly Garden
There is something special about seeing a Monarch Butterfly cross your path. Its presence seems to demand all onlookers to stop whatever you are doing and observe its beautiful dance around yellow and purple wild flowers. It feels almost magical as it flutters around, lands, and then coasts off to the next desired spot.
Monarch and Black Swallowtail butterflies seem to circle around as if it is saying hello, and inviting those around to join in their winged party. It has been a sweet surprise and has made me wonder, what if you could summon those stunning creatures to your own backyard each and year with your own personal butterfly garden.
The great part about building your own butterfly garden is that it can be easy, so much fun, and a great activity to share with your children. Here are four simple steps to help you build your own butterfly garden in your own back yard so that each spring and summer you and your family can marvel at the life cycle of one pretty spectacular insect.
Step 1 – Attracting a Home for the Caterpillar
When you are preparing to build your butterfly garden, you want to take two aspects into account. The first will be to plant nectar plants that will attract butterflies to eat, but also what will create a sanctuary for butterflies to lay eggs and multiply.
When it comes to attracting caterpillars you want to make sure you have certain plants that help make a safe, warm, and protected home so the caterpillar. Surprisingly, caterpillars are somewhat picky on the type of plants that they will rest and build their chrysalis.
When you begin your process of planting, research what butterflies are most common in the area that you live in. Once you have determined that, choose the plants according to what butterflies live in your area. Checking out the Butterflies and Moths of North America Regional Species Checklists, will help give you an idea of what butterflies might be found in the region that you live in. For example, if you are wanting to attract a Monarch caterpillar, planting Milkweed is great choice for a host plant. Another example is if you are looking to attack a Black Swallowtail caterpillar, you will want to plant Parsley.
You can buy the seeds to these plants at any local store. One important note about milkweed is that the plant will need to experience a winter. Therefore, plant it in the fall so that it will be ready to come up in the spring. If you are wanting a more immediate garden, you can buy the plant online or from a local nursery. In my local area we have a wildlife preserve that was offering free milkweed seeds for children and families.
Step 2 – Planting Host Plants for Butterflies to Eat
In the same way that caterpillars are picky about where they will live, butterflies are picky about what flowers they will eat from. These plants can be known as “nectar plants.” Here are a list of different plants that are good “nectar plants.”
Plants That Attract Butterflies
Here is a list of different nectar plants that you can plant and which butterfly will be attracted to them:
- A Butterfly Bush – Swallowtail. This plant tends to be invasive, so be careful where you choose to plant.
- Swamp Milkweed – Snowberry Clearwing. It also serves as the host plant for Monarch caterpillars.
- Joe Pye Weed – Swallowtail.
- Zinnia – this plant is attractive to a range of butterflies.
- Pentas – suitable for Swallowtails.
- Heliotrope – this plant attracts a range of butterflies.
Step 3 – Plan Your Butterfly Garden
When planning for your butterfly garden it’s important to have a plan. As you plant each one, be thinking of what each plant needs, and how big they will be when they are fully grown. Having additional landscape might be helpful to keep a clean, and attractive look for your garden. There are some plants that are great to attach the butterflies, but maybe not as attractive like milkweed.
This is another great way to include your children in the gardening process. This is a great way for even old children to use math skills to plan out how much space each plant needs.
Step 4 – Plant and Water
The fun begins when you begin to plant your seeds that will make up your butterfly garden. Remember you can buy seeds from just about any store that sells seeds. After you plant your seeds, make sure that you keep your new plants watered until they are well established.
Using a Root Stick is one great option to make sure that your plants are getting the adequate amount of water. This is a simple tool that you can purchase here and place in your new butterfly garden. It will help to hydrate your plants right at their root source to make sure that your new garden will grow and thrive.
Step 5 – Enjoy Your New Butterfly Garden
As your garden grows and is established, you will have the unique opportunity to observe butterflies coming and laying their eggs. Those eggs will turn into caterpillars where you will be able to watch the entire life cycle of this amazing creature. Make sure to observe which butterflies visit, take photos, and enjoy.
Engage your children too and make sure to include them into the process. A fun activity could be to create a log book or notebook. Have you child take pictures and post them into the notebook. Research about each butterfly and see how many different varieties that you can get.
The Difference between Moths and Butterflies
You might notice that your garden will attract moths as well. While these insects also have beautiful qualities they are in fact different from a butterfly. One specific way is to tell by size.
Most of the time butterflies will be larger than a moth and usually have more colors. Another sure fire way to tell the difference is by observing the antennae. You will notice that most butterflies have thin filament-like antenna that have a club-shape at the end.
On the other hand, moths will have a comb-life or feathery antennae. In addition, moth caterpillars will spin a cocoon made of silk where they transition or metamorphose into the pupa stage. Most butterflies will form an exposed pupa which is called a chrysalis. Catching photos of this process will be a great addition to a notebook.
Adding a butterfly garden can be a beautiful and fun addition to your backyard. Planning, creating, and planting a butterfly garden is a great activity to do with your children.
We would love to see your butterfly garden. Please share your pictures on our Facebook page or tell us about your experience in the comments.