One of the most welcome sights in the garden is when a butterfly comes to visit. When a whole swarm of them comes, it’s like magic. So how can you be sure to get more of these lovely visitors? By planting a butterfly garden! A butterfly garden, or pollinator garden, is planted specifically to lure beneficial insects who pollinate your flowering plants.
Here on Long Island, we have many butterfly species that you might see in your garden. Monarch butterflies, black swallowtail, and the painted lady just to name a few. To lure adult butterflies you not only need nectar plants for them to eat, but you also need to plant native plants that are food for butterfly caterpillars.
In early spring butterflies arrive and begin to lay their eggs on native plants that will feed their young. These eggs hatch into caterpillars. Once the caterpillars eat their fill they will build a cocoon. They’ll stay inside the cocoon until they emerge sometime later as an adult butterfly. Your garden should provide for every stage of the lifecycle. Plants like butterfly bushes (which are considered an invasive plant in some states), coneflower, sage, and lantanas are great at feeding adult butterflies, while milkweed, aster, parsley, and violets are the favorite foods of caterpillars.
Most plants that attract butterflies grow in full sun, so plan ahead before planting your butterfly garden. While some birds and butterflies can get along, most birds love butterflies for a snack. When laying out your garden place bird feeders well away from your butterfly garden, as well as any birdhouses.
In addition to knowing what plants to grow, you need to provide water, shelter, and sun. A birdbath or water feature is the perfect way to ensure that your winged friends have access to water to drink. Trees and shrubs make for the best butterfly houses. They provide branches to roost on at night and a place to hide from predators. Many trees and shrubs are also excellent caterpillar food.
Finally, the sun. Butterflies are cold-blooded insects and they need the sun to warm themselves up each morning. Make sure that some sun reaches either open ground, stones, or even pavement early in the morning so that it warms up and will be attractive to butterflies.
If you do a little bit of advanced planning and make sure to offer everything butterflies need to thrive you’ll lure them into your garden year after year.