Attracting Butterflies to your Garden

Introduction – Planting a butterfly garden is something anyone can do and helps out the environment.  Not only will it draw butterflies, (in addition to humming birds and beneficial insects), but also add beauty to your landscape by the flowering plants you add.

It can be simple or complex as you are willing to make it; however, you must understand that different butterfly species have different requirements, which change throughout their life cycles.  A well planned butterfly garden should appeal to many different butterfly species and cater to both the adults and their larvae (aka caterpillars), food preferences.  Adults generally feed on flower nectar, while larvae rely on specific host plants, which not only are a source for food, but also can provide shelter, camouflage, chemicals used for protection, courtship, and reproduction.  As a rule, small adult butterflies favor small flowers, and larger ones, larger flowers.  Both sources should be planted fairly close to each other.  Larvae can strip nearly all leaves from a host plant (which are meant to be eaten), but will later leaf out.  Remember, they will not eat all your other landscape plants.  Need host plants to offer butterflies a reason to stay and reproduce.

To be successful, you need a plan that considers the requirements of the butterflies you want to attract and the plants you use to lure them to your area.  (Best if diversified colors, shapes, and sizes.)

There are 765 butterfly species in US and Canada.  Florida has 170 native and 17 tropical ones.

Life cycle of butterflies – 4 stages:

  1. Egg
  2. Larvae
  3. Pupa (aka chrysalis)
  4. Adult

Once eggs are laid, usually near favorable host plants, they hatch into larvae and immediately begin feeding.  Because they grow so fast and have enormous appetites, they will molt (aka shed) their skins several times.  When fully grown, the larvae seek a sheltered place to molt, where it transforms itself into a winged adult.

Pesticides – be careful when buying host plants as they may have been treated with pesticides (including systemics).  If you must use pesticides to control other insects, use sparingly and only treat infected plant.

Please feel free to visit and print off a copy of “Butterfly Gardening in Florida” – WEC22.  This, in addition to covering the topics I’ve already discussed, also provides tables of recommended larval and adult food plants for various species of butterflies.  Remember, you want those for Butterfly Region 4.

About AskthePlantMaster

I have 50 years of horticultural experience, am currently a Master Gardener in Central Florida. In addition, I'm a Horticulture Instructor and retired Parks Manager and Arborist. I love plants and would love to help you with yours!
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