It's easy to fill your garden with a fluttering rainbow. Nearly every locale across the country offers some butterflies that you can attract into your garden by meeting just a few of the beautiful insects' basic needs.
Every butterfly passes through four distinct life stages: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and adult. Of course, you can't attract a chrysalis or egg, but you can entice the adults who start the cycle. Adding flowers like zinnias,
cosmos, coneflowers, daisies, and other butterfly favorites to your garden is an easy way to attract these nectar seekers.
But in some species, the adult butterfly doesn't eat anything at all. Its only function is to reproduce, mating and laying eggs for the next generation. You can still attract these butterflies—as well as those that drink nectar—by supplying suitable food plants for their caterpillars to munch. In most species, when the female is ready to lay her eggs, she seeks out the host plant species that her caterpillars will need for food.
A caterpillar is an eating machine, but many species will eat only a few types of plants. The caterpillar of the monarch butterfly, for example, eats only milkweeds (Asclepias spp.); black swallowtail caterpillars may favor your parsley. And as any gardener who's fought off cabbage-worms can tell you, the common white cabbage butterflies prefer brassicas (cabbage-family crops) for their host plants.
Supplying food for nectar-seeking adults and host plants for egg laying are the best ways to attract butterflies into your garden. Use low-growing groundcovers such as clovers and grasses to provide sunning spots for adults to warm themselves. Walls, hedgerows, and similar windbreaks create protected spots that butterflies will appreciate.
Adding a source of water
is as essential for attracting butterflies as it is for birds. Creating a "mudhole"—a shallow, permanent puddle—offers butterflies both water and minerals from the mud. Or make a butterfly "bath" from the basin of a birdbath (without the stand) or a plate or shallow bowl placed directly on the ground. Fill it with pebbles to give the butterflies good perching spots, then add water. Butterflies will come flocking!