Planting your garden with plants that attract butterflies is only one step in making your garden butterfly-friendly. Once butterflies discover your garden the females will lay eggs on plants that become food for the hatching caterpillars.
The host plant selected, and the time of year the eggs are laid, depends on the species of butterfly. Different butterflies prefer different host plants.
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution if your aim is to entice a diverse selection of butterflies into your garden.
To get a better understanding of the diversity needed I turned to author and garden blogger Benjamin Vogt. Benjamin runs a native plant gardening consulting company near Lincoln, Nebraska, and is one of the most passionate advocates of native plants that I know online.
Below are his suggestions for creating an environment that encourages butterflies to complete their life cycle in our gardens.
Host Plants for Butterflies
Monarchs like to feed on common plants like milkweed. While other species are ferocious eaters of many of our favorite garden herbs. Fennel, parsley, and dill make good hosts for Black Swallowtails. Some sulfur butterflies are hosted by Baptisia.
Trees and Shrubs That Host Butterflies
Often overlooked when speaking about butterfly hosts are trees and shrubs, but they are just as important as the plants listed above. According to Benjamin, oaks, willows, chokecherries, and elms are great butterfly larvae host trees.
Water and Nectar for Butterflies
Chuck B. mentioned an interesting talk by a butterfly gardener in the comments of my post on plants that are butterfly magnets. You can read Chuck’s post about the lecture at his garden blog. While the talk was specifically for California butterfly gardening there is useful information there for butterfly gardeners everywhere.
For example, creating a water source for butterflies is as easy as ensuring there are puddles in your garden. These puddles can be in the form of a depression in a stone that catches water, or filling a birdbath with rocks and mud. The video above of a butterfly sipping water from a dirty flip-flop illustrates that butterflies are not very picky about their water source.
Benjamin mentions that in his garden he regularly observes butterflies sipping droplets of water from of stones and leaves. Before you put your fruit scraps into the compost bin think about setting them outside for the butterflies. He and his wife like to put out rinds and mushy pieces of fruit for the butterflies to nectar on.
The First Rule of Butterfly Gardening
Benjamin and the speaker Chuck B. blogged about point out that you should avoid using pesticides in your garden. If you are having a problem with pests in your garden opt for safer treatments instead of using broad spectrum pesticides.
Use alternatives like horticultural oils and soaps and make sure you don't accidentally spray any caterpillars. Many pests, like aphids, can be removed by simply clipping the stem they’re attached to and disposing of it. Put on a pair of garden gloves to pick and squish larger pests like slugs and beetles.
What are some ways you make your garden more enticing to butterflies?