Brightly colored butterflies are a welcome visitor to any garden. We value them for their usefulness as pollinators, as well as for their beauty. Attracting them involves planting shrubs and perennials that serve the needs of all life stages of the butterfly, providing places to lay eggs, food plants for the caterpillars and the adults, and spots to form chrysalides.
Butterfly gardens can be any size, from a small window box to a large, untended portion of your landscape. They can be as simple as you’d like, from a mono-planting of coneflowers to a constantly blooming border of host plants and nectar-rich perennials. And once you’ve created your pollinator garden, it can be certified with the National Wildlife Federation, making your yard part of the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.
The MPGC is a nationwide call to action to preserve and create gardens and landscapes that help ensure the health of bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects across America. Non-profits like Wild Ones and America in Bloom are partnering with local garden clubs to get folks outdoors and educate them on the connection between healthy landscapes and the food that we eat. You can get more information by visiting their website www.millionpollinatorgardens.org
Let’s start with host plants. These plants, often native to a given area, are those where the adult butterflies can lay eggs. They are often butterfly-specific. Having host plants in your garden ensures that the butterflies will linger for longer periods of time. The caterpillars will stay as well. Remember that once those eggs hatch, the caterpillars will be munching. Don’t be too worried about it though. Healthy plants will suffer long-term damage. A few of the most common host perennials for Dane County gardens are Butterfly Weed for Monarchs, Asters to attract Pearl Crescents and Hollyhock to feed Painted Ladies. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention the annual Bronze Fennel, an absolute magnet for Tiger Swallowtails.
Be sure to supply plenty of nectar-rich, flowering plants to provide food for the adults. Butterflies are attracted to flowers by color, so plant masses of single colors, rather than complicated mixes. And, try to provide a continuous bloom through the growing season. Butterflies are in our area from mid-spring to late fall, but are most active from early summer to early autumn. There are many choices, but a few of our favorites are Garden Phlox, Butterflybush, Asters and Coneflowers in tones of pink and purple.
Try to say no when it comes to insecticides. Most are not insect specific and will kill a broad spectrum of creatures, including useful ones like bees, butterflies and ladybugs. So don’t use pesticides in or near your butterfly attracting plants.
Finally, you’ll want to include some shallow watering spots and a few sheltered, shady areas. These provide moisture and protection from weather and predators. If you find yourself wanting to attract some of the less common butterflies, check out www.wisconsinbutterflies.org to see all of the possibilities.