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Top Tips for Attracting Butterflies to your Garden

Top Tips for Butterfly Gardeners

You thought your toddler was a picky eater? Try planning a butterfly garden! Caterpillars would rather starve than eat the wrong plant, and adult butterflies will move on to tastier pastures (literally) if you don't have what they're looking for. Monarchs are the most famous picky eaters: Caterpillars eat milkweed only, thank you very much.

No matter what species of butterfly you're aiming to attract, all butterfly gardens have five elements: plenty of sunshine, roosting spots sheltered from the wind and predators, nectar sources (blooming flowers for adults), host plants (food for caterpillars), and water.

The most important element for a successful butterfly garden is providing proper host plants for caterpillars. Don't just put in a showy flowering buffet and expect masses of butterflies—they need a place to lay their eggs and grow up, too. These host plants are usually lowly herbs and grasses, and they usually get eaten completely.

Planning a butterfly garden to include more types of plants ensures that bloom times will be staggered and that these picky eaters will have plenty of food to choose from. The ideal butterfly garden mixes annuals, perennials, herbs, shrubs and trees. Caterpillar host plants shouldn't be too far from nectar plants, and roosting opportunities should be scattered among masses of plants to provide convenient resting spots.

Depending on the size of your butterfly garden, you'll need one or two “puddles” of standing water. Make your own butterfly puddles by burying a small bucket or large bowl to the rim. Place clean sand in the bottom and fill with plain water, stale beer, or sweetened fruit drinks. You'll want to keep your puddle small to discourage mosquitoes and change the drink every few days to discourage fruit fly invasions.

Bird baths make ideal puddle spots for butterflies, especially if you provide a flat stone or two in the water. Gentle, low-flow fountains may be all right, but splashing discourages butterflies from congregating. Males get together around puddles of water, so if your butterfly garden doesn't have a place for them to congregate they'll move on—and take the girls with them.

What makes a plant attractive to butterflies? The flower shape is their primary concern. Butterflies don't hover very long so they need a sturdy, flat spot to land. Daisy-like flowers with open faces are ideal. Feeding is easier if there are large clusters of flowers on single stems.

Butterflies prefer orange, yellow, and purple flowers, though other colors are attractive to some species. Heavily-perfumed flowers attract all kinds of pollinators (as well as people), so keep fragrance in mind when planning the butterfly garden. Some hybridized flowers have had their fragrance bred right out of them, so choose old-fashioned varieties whenever you can.

Keep these top tips in mind when planning a butterfly garden, and you'll see these happy fliers flitting about in no time!

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