Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden – The Why and How

Attracting-butterflies-Painted-lady-butterfly

If you’re a master naturalist or just a budding one, the beauty of butterflies catches everyone’s eyes as they fly by. What do you do if you want to enjoy butterflies for more than just a fleeting glimpse? This is where knowing how to attract butterflies native to your area comes in handy.

In addition to their beauty, butterflies also serve other important purposes for the environment. If you want to attract butterflies to your garden, it’s time to look why you should and how you can do this.

Why Should You Attract Butterflies to Your Garden?

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So, why should you attract butterflies to your home garden?

There are several good reasons why you should work to attract butterflies to your plants. Aside from their beauty, butterflies provide you with many other benefits.

Do Butterflies Pollinate Gardens?

Yes! Butterflies are excellent pollinators.

The most well-known function of butterflies is that of pollinator, alongside bees. Butterflies feed on nectar using their long tongue, or proboscis, like a straw to reach far down into the flower to sip nectar.

While they are sitting on the flower or hovering near it to feed, pollen collects on the butterflies’ bodies, to be carried on to the next flower down the line.

This method of pollination is similar to how bees pollinate plants. Since many plants need someone to help pollinate them, butterflies are an excellent and pretty way to go about doing this.

Much of the fruits and vegetables we eat require cross-pollination to bear their food, and butterflies are a pretty way to get it done. In addition to pollinating plants, butterflies also serve as an important part of the food chain.

Butterflies as Part of the Food Chain

Monarch-Caterpillar
Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar

Starting at the beginning of a butterfly’s life cycle, caterpillars eat the leaves of certain plants to give them energy and to allow them to grow big enough to pupate, or form a cocoon.

Some breeds of caterpillar also like to eat flowers or seed pods in addition to leaves. When caterpillars eat all of these, it helps trees and plants in several ways.

  • Eating the leaves off plants helps thin them out before autumn
  • Eating the seed pods and flowers helps keep some plants from growing or propagating out of control.
  • Butterfly species help keep garden pests under control by eating aphids or other pests.
  • Other species of butterfly eat rotting fruit that was not able to be collected from the garden in time.
  • Some butterflies eat carrion, or dead animals, or animal excrement. This helps to keep down the incidents of disease and rids the environment of waste.
  • Butterflies and caterpillars serve as food for other animals such as birds, lizards, and even some small mammals, and are an important part of their ecosystem.

Butterflies as Pest Control

Butterflies provide you with some free pest control for your plants. Not in their adult state, as this website mentions:

Butterflies and moths do most of their eating when they are in the caterpillar stage. Almost all caterpillars eat plant parts, but a few are carnivorous. Caterpillars of the carnivorous Harvester butterfly (Feniseca tarquinius) of the eastern U.S. eat woolly aphids. The adult female butterfly lays her eggs in the middle of aphid masses.

Butterflies as Environment Indicators

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Since butterflies, like bees, are very sensitive to changes in their environment, they are a harbinger of change to their ecosystems. Environmental scientists are using butterflies to catch changes in environments due to chemicals, warming, cooling, or anything else before it becomes an issue.

Butterflies and caterpillars, like bees, are sensitive to certain types of pesticides and are a good indicator if there is a buildup of these pesticides that could affect other animals or even plants.

If a butterfly’s habitat changes, whether it’s due to temperature, rainfall, or loss of habitat, this can alter migration patterns or the time of year butterflies do migrate. Any of these changes will cause animals higher up the food chain to have issues, and can even prevent many plants from being pollinated properly or pests to grow out of control.

If butterflies and caterpillars lose their habitat, they are vulnerable to being overeaten by predators, which can also throw off the whole ecosystem. Butterflies’ sensitivity to even small changes in their environment means that they can be used by both ecologists and gardeners to tell when bigger changes might be on their way.

How Can I Attract Butterflies to My Garden?

Now that you know some of the reasons why attracting butterflies to your garden is good, let’s look at how to attract butterflies.

There are several things you’ll need to attract butterflies to your garden.

1. Provide a Food Source

First, you’ll need to provide a food source for butterflies and caterpillars.  They will also need access to a water source, preferably something like a damp puddle.

Food is the most important aspect of growing caterpillars and attracting butterflies to your garden. Both caterpillars and butterflies will need to eat, and each has slightly different food requirements.

To choose the best plants for attracting butterflies, check that the plants you are picking are native to your area. To grow caterpillars, choose plants that will attract different types of caterpillars.

Some examples of plants that caterpillars eat:

  • Milkweed
  • Ash
  • Passionflowers
  • Different types of vetch
  • However, each species of caterpillar has its own preferences.

Once caterpillars turn into butterflies, their preferences will change, and they’ll crave good sources of nectar that are planted in sunny areas.

Plants that attract butterflies usually tend to be:

  • Native to the area you live in
  • In a color palette containing red, yellow, orange, pink, or purple flowers.
  • Continuously blooming plants, so that butterflies can feed throughout their whole season.

Plant lots of different varieties of plants. They’ll provide a food source for your butterflies and a safe place for them to lay eggs and pupate.

swallowtail-butterfly-pickerelweed-flower
Swallowtail butterfly on pickerelweed

2. A Place to Rest

Another way to attract butterflies to your garden is to provide a place to rest. Butterflies need a sunny place to bask in the sun, warm their wings before they fly, and also to orient themselves for their migration journeys.

3. Water

Butterflies need water to drink. Unlike bees, who prefer freshwater, butterflies prefer to drink their water from shallow puddles in mud or wet sand. This is what is called puddling, and it is how butterflies keep hydrated. They also get some much-needed minerals that they would not be able to get otherwise.

4. Avoid Pesticides and Chemicals

One thing to keep in mind when tending your garden – avoid pesticides and chemicals!

Pesticides should be avoided due to the fact that certain pesticides are lethal to both butterflies and caterpillars, as well as bees, and can affect the environment if these pollinators begin to die off.

A Place to Call Home

Butterflies are a beautiful addition to any garden, and they have many benefits when they stop into your garden.

They’re excellent pollinators, great pest and weed control, and they’re a good indicator of problems that may be developing in the environment. As a bonus, butterflies are good for your mental health in the beauty they can bring to your garden.

There are many ways to attract butterflies to your garden and keep them there. The biggest factor in attracting and keeping butterflies is the plants that are put out for them to eat as well as the caterpillars to feast on.

Other factors are sunshine, a place to rest, and muddy or sandy water to drink, as well as keeping pesticides out of the garden.

Hopefully, this information will help you in creating a garden that is a beautiful and sunny spot for you as well as the caterpillars and butterflies that decide to call it home.

References
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