Butterfly Gardening

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on September 20, 2010

Butterflies are not as efficient at pollinating plants as bees, but they pollinate many species of plants.  They are also prettier than most bees.  While the Monarch Butterfly is probably the best known butterfly in North America, there are around 700 species.  That means there is something for everyone to see, wherever you live, even on another continent.  Except Antarctica, that is.  No butterflies there.

Butterflies go through four stages in their life.  The female lays eggs on the underside of flowers.  Each species uses a particular flower as a nursery, so if that flower is not present, they go elsewhere.  The eggs hatch into caterpillars.  After eating on the leaves of their nursery plant, the caterpillar eventually spins a cocoon, or pupae, around itself.  This becomes opaque while the caterpillar rearranges itself into a butterfly.  When that is done, the pupae becomes clear and splits, while the butterfly struggles out.  At first, the butterfly sits, stunned, then pumps its’ wings for a while.  Gradually, the wings unfurl and become strong while the body of the butterfly shrinks.  After this process is finished, the butterfly can fly away, to start the cycle over again.Butterfly on flower

Butterflies have a long tongue that is modified to act as a straw so they can sip nectar from plants.  The tongue is so long it is kept curled until it is needed.  At first, the butterfly has to figure out how to sip from each plant.  Quickly, though, it learns where the nectar is.  As butterflies work to get their nectar, they get pollen on their feet and track it to the next plant, fertilizing it.  This is how butterflies help grow vegetables and flowers.

Butterflies like flowers with big, colorful blooms.  Aster, Black-eyed Susan, Milkweed, Butterfly weed, and Hibiscus are just some of the flowers that attract butterflies.  Some of the seed vendors sell seed packets of flowers designed to attract butterflies.  If you go with a reputable vendor, these are an easy way to  start a butterfly garden.  These same plants will attract hummingbirds and bees.

If you want lots of butterflies, try to use as few pesticides as possible.  If you must spray, do so in the evening, after the butterflies have finished feeding for the day.  Use the least toxic pesticide available, and remember to follow the label.  Treat only the plants with the pest problem and leave the rest of the plants untreated.skipper on rail

In addition to putting in plants butterflies love, putting out a source of water is a good way to attract butterflies.  A bird bath or even just a dish of water is appreciated.  Even though butterflies get most of their moisture from the nectar they sip, they do need water.

Follow these tips and you should soon have butterflies in your garden.  Watching them flit from flower to flower is a great way to relax after a long day gardening.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue September 20, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Hello Suesan….I’ve been waiting impatiently for the Monarchs to make their way to Texas, but they seem to have been side tracked and haven’t arrived yet. My Autum Joy hasn’t bloomed out yet, so maybe it’s a good thing they haven’t arrived on their trek to Mexico. I didn’t know about the water for butterflies. I do have a birdbath, but now, I will be sure it’s full and maybe add some more watering places for them. I’ve been really lucky this summer with photographing butterflies, and was able to get a close up shot of them drinking in a shallow pool on the Concho River Bank. Very informative post…enjoyed reading and your photos….Sue


Julianne September 21, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Thank you very much for sharing this. This is absolutely a wonderful post! I always love to read about new fads on gardening and I must say you educated us well about butterflies . Keep it up!


PET CEMETERY September 23, 2010 at 6:21 am

This is a lovely well written article. So glad I found it.


Olivia October 4, 2010 at 3:00 am

It’s absolutely an awesome blog on butterfly gardening. It is always a delight to read your posts as I learn a lot from your thoughtful insights. Thanks for sharing with us. Keep up the good work!


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