University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Summer News Article

A DOZEN DESIGN TIPS FOR BUTTERFLY GARDENS

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

 
Many desire butterfly gardens to attract these beautiful insects.  It's hard to even think of them as insects, a term bringing to mind some of the undesirable garden insects we despise.  Yet butterflies are more than attractive.

Searching for nectar they help pollinate plants, ensuring seeds for future generations.  They are part of the food chain, serving as prey for many birds and small mammals.  Whether your garden is in the city or country, large or small, Bulletin 7151 from the University of Maine includes some of these design tips towards developing a butterfly-friendly landscape.

1)  Choose a garden site that is in full sun, and is protected from high winds for obvious reasons.  It should be visible from windows, decks, or places where you can observe the butterflies.

2) If you need to provide wind protection for these fragile and lightweight creatures, plant a windbreak of trees or shrubs.  Such woody plants will provide cover, and with the right
choices food as well. Make sure you provide some for both spring and summer feeding, both by larvae and butterflies.

3) Make sure to have some spring-flowering shrubs such as lilac, viburnum, blueberry, and shadbush. These provide cover, as well as nectar early in the season.  Ripe fruits of these and others such as crabapple and raspberry also attract some butterflies later in the season.

4) Include some summer-flowering shrubs such as privet and summersweet for nectar later in the season.

5) Use annual flowers to provide nectar all summer, perennial flowers to provide nectar during certain periods when they are in bloom.  Do some research to see what plants are particularly attractive to what species, and the species found in your area.

6) When planting, place the taller plants in back, the shorter plants in front, so you can better see them.

7) Butterflies are near-sighted, so more attracted to masses of plants and flowers.

8) Eliminate insecticides from your butterfly garden.  Learn to tolerate some chewing and damage to plants.  Some of that is caused by caterpillars-- the butterfly larvae that turn into butterflies!

9) Add some vegetables and herbs to encourage butterflies to lay eggs in the garden.  Eggs hatch into caterpillars, and caterpillars need to eat.  Caterpillar forage plants include parsley and ornamental cabbage, which are excellent edging plants for the flower garden.  Clover makes a good "living mulch path".  Carrot and dill add fine-textured, attractive foliage to the flower garden.

10) Leave some weeds or wildflowers, as many serve as food sources for both caterpillars and butterflies.  The orange monarch, loved by so many, needs milkweed on which to lay its eggs and the caterpillars to feed.  Thistles and nettles, pulled out from our more formal gardens, serve as food too.  Even spring dandelion provides nectar for the Spring Azure butterfly.  Edges of gardens, areas out of sight, or fence rows are areas you may allow weeds to grow, if not in a "dedicated" butterfly garden.

11) Plant some plants for butterflies in containers for flexibility.  Window boxes, hanging baskets, and other containers allow you to attract butterflies to patios, porches, and other visible parts of your landscape.

12) Don't deadhead flowers late in the season.  In our penchant for tidy and neat gardens, many feel they must cut off the dead flowers from perennials, and even shrubs like rhododendrons and lilacs.  Leave these on and the plants will do double duty-- first in the season for the butterflies then later in winter as a source of seeds for the birds.


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