Planning Your Garden
If you want to add the living color of butterflies to your garden, start by using some of the recommended plants in the lists at the end of this article. Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) make an unusual addition to the wild garden or middle border, though it's a good idea to contain their vigorous roots in a buried bottomless bucket. The oddly shaped, sweet-smelling flowers
will attract a variety of feeding butterflies, and from summer through early fall, monarchs ready to lay eggs will seek out your planting. If you're extra lucky, you may find a delicate monarch chrysalis hanging below a milkweed leaf like a jade pendant, decorated with shining gold dots. Milkweed's well-behaved relative, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa
), bears glowing orange, red, or yellow flower clusters, and looks equally at home in a sunny wildflower meadow or perennial border. But while the aptly named butterfly bushes (Buddleja alternifolia and B. davidii
) attract a wealth of butterflies, they have proven invasive in several states and many gardeners are avoiding them because they can escape the bounds of the garden by self-sowing.
If your aim is to attract a particular species, you'll need to do a bit of homework to find out its favorite nectar plants or caterpillar host plant(s). A field guide to butterflies is helpful in planning the butterfly garden. Look for a book with information about the plants that caterpillars eat, the plants from which the adults take nectar, and the drinking, sunning, or other unique habits of the adults. Detailed, full-color illustrations of both the caterpillar and adult stages, and information about the geographical area in which the insects are found, are also valuable. Books specifically on butterfly gardening are another excellent reference. Look online or at nature-oriented bookstores for titles to choose. You'll also find extensive online information on butterflies and butterfly gardening.
If your goal is to attract as many butterflies as possible, check a field guide or search online to find out which species are found in your area, then create a checklist. Use your list to develop a custom-tailored butterfly garden of food and host plants. A local natural history museum, college entomology department, or butterfly club can give you more pointers. Entomology departments and agricultural extension services frequently publish articles and brochures on butterfly gardening in their state; you can also find many of these online.