by Karen Marquardt
Everyone loves butterflies, and most people want more of them around. There are several ways you can attract butterflies to your garden.
The first part of attracting butterflies is understanding their needs. Butterflies are insects that go through four complete life stages, each with different needs. Two of these stages, butterfly and caterpillar need food sources; and two stages, pupa and egg need shelter. Understanding the food and shelter needs of different butterflies helps attract them to your garden.
Most butterflies, as adults, feed on nectar producing flowers but others feed on everything from animal dung to tree sap. Planting nectar producing flowers, particularly native plants, will entice butterflies into your yard. You can also set up feeding stations, with nectar and fruit. Adult butterflies also feed at different heights, so providing a variety of plants in also necessary. Some of the great Central Texas butterfly flowers are coneflowers, passionflowers, mistflower, pentas, lantana, pavonia, zinnias, milkweed, sunflowers, queen Anne’s lace, and butterfly bush. The most common recommendations for attracting both bees and butterflies is to plant flowers, especially ones that provide a resting place (think large and flat, like a daisy).
Butterflies also need host plants, where they lay their eggs and where caterpillars feed. One of the biggest aspects of inviting butterflies into your garden in a tolerance for caterpillar chewed leaves. Caterpillars are voracious eaters, and can leave plants looking awful. Adding plants that you don’t mind seeing chewed on can keep butterflies in your yard. Most swallowtail butterflies, my favorites, like plants in the parsley and citrus families. Monarchs lay eggs exclusively on milkweed plants, and many other butterflies like milkweed. Fritillaries like passionflowers, and other butterflies favor different trees and flowers for host plants. Many of the native plants which host butterflies are seen as weeds, but are crucial to butterfly reproduction. Host plants can be added to the backs of beds and other places where the chewed leaves can be tolerated. I always plant dill in my herb garden because I like the butterflies, not because I love the flavor of dill.
One of the last considerations for attracting butterflies is to provide a water source. Butterflies like shallow, low, mineral rich water so adding a small dish with damp crushed granite will provide water for butterflies.
If you provide for their needs, you will have butterflies. Plant flowers, lots of different kinds and different heights, allow the occasional weed, tolerate caterpillar chewed leaves and enjoy a garden full of butterflies!