Plant a Butterfly Garden

It's easy to lure butterflies to your yard by planting a few of their favorite flowers. This Midwest gardener has created a complete habitat that attracts a delightful array of winged diners.

By Jane Austin McKeon


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Watching Butterflies
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Plan It Properly

    Attract butterflies to your garden with a wide variety of plants. Doris Fons of Wisconsin has planted her garden to welcome butterflies in every stage of their development. Her hospitality provides spots for sunning and laying eggs, host plants for hungry caterpillars, shallow water sources, and safe harbor when the time comes for metamorphosis.

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Choose a Sunny Spot

    Most flowers that attract butterflies require at least six hours of sunlight each day. It's also helpful to create your butterfly garden in a spot that's sheltered from the wind. Check out a butterfly's tissue-paper-thin wings and you'll see why they appreciate protection.

    Here's a hint: You may see butterfly houses for sale. These are merely garden ornaments; butterflies don't usually take shelter in them.

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Involve Children

    Not much hooks a little boy or girl's interest in gardening more quickly than a colorful butterfly in flight. Appreciation for plants will follow closely on the heels of chasing butterflies on paths through wild tangles of blooms as tall as the tops of the kids' heads.

    Here's a hint: Get kids even more involved when they can watch all the stages of a butterfly's life cycle.

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Cater to Caterpillars

    Butterfly caterpillars each have their own food preferences. It's easy to see adults fly from flower to flower sipping nectar. But it's sometimes harder watch caterpillars feeding because they eat only a particular host plants. Each species lays eggs on the plants the caterpillars favor. That's why it's important to plant specific food sources to attract specific types of butterflies. Favorite caterpillar cuisine includes parsley, dill, fennel, milkweed, and white clover.

    Here's a hint: If these leafy morsels are too unwieldy for your taste, tuck them in a vegetable patch or in an out-of-the-way corner of your yard.

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Plant a Nectar Smorgasbord

    To lure the greatest variety of butterflies to your garden, select an assortment of bright flowers that produce nectar throughout the season. Some of the best include alyssum, butterfly bush, cornflower, cosmos, purple coneflower, globe amaranth, heliotrope, larkspur, milkweed, nicotiana, pentas, salvia, sunflower, Mexican sunflower, and zinnia. Species with clustered blooms, such as phlox, offer several sips in one swoop for butterflies such as this Monarch.

    Here's a hint: Instead of tossing your overripe fruit in the compost pile, fill a saucer with sliced oranges, pears, and melons and set it among the flowers to attract fruit-loving butterflies such as Admirals or Red-Spotted Purples.

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Mass Flowers in Casual Clumps

    Butterflies are more likely to notice big displays of single colors. Massing individual flower species in large, informal drifts -- such as this border of sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, globe thistle, and phlox -- advertises all-you-can-sip portions that butterflies can home in on from a distance.

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Serve Simple Suppers

    Like a lot of people, butterflies like fast food. Blossoms that face upward, offering unobstructed landing pads, make it easy for butterflies to grab a quick sip. The bright yellow umbels of yarrow stand like beacons above pink garden phlox to draw in and delight this hungry Giant Swallowtail.

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Provide a Water Source

    In nature, butterflies flock to the muddy edges of puddles, creeks, or ponds, where water is fortified with minerals. You can satisfy their thirst just as well by placing a shallow saucer filled with wet sand among your flowers. Butterflies usually will not risk drinking from deeper water sources, such as birdbaths.

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Design for You

    Not every plant in your garden has to be for the butterflies. Here, your winged visitors will enjoy the nectar from purple larkspur. But you can enjoy the contrast in color and texture that comes from an ornamental grass, such as this bloodgrass.

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Let Sleeping Larvae Lie

    Let's not overlook the miraculous metamorphosis that occurs when a caterpillar completes its gorging and turn to the work of spinning a chrysalis. Here, a Swallowtail caterpillar is in the process of changing into a beautiful butterfly while dangling from the stem of a dill plant.

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Don't Forget About Containers

    Enjoy butterflies, even if you have small space. Container gardens planted with butterfly favorites such as lantana, scarlet milkweed, parsley, or dill can be just as attractive as plants grown in the ground.

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