It’s that time of year when butterflies gracefully spread their wings and float through the warm summer air. There is something magical about these winged beauties, and creating a garden to attract them is relatively easy.
One of the main requirements is a sunny location—an area that receives four to six hours of direct sun every day. Butterflies also need a source of shallow water; a mud puddle or a saucer with wet sand or mud will do the trick. If you can provide some shelter from strong winds and a few stones where they can sun themselves, that’s even better. Also, if you want to provide a haven for butterflies, don’t use pesticides. It’s true that these pollinators are attracted to particular plants, and that the larvae of different species prefer different types of food, but you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy butterflies in your garden. Instead, you can attract them by simply planting a variety of plants, including annuals, perennials, trees, and shrubs.
Remember that butterflies start out as caterpillars first, and herbs like fennel and parsley, as well as trees like sweet bay magnolia, papaw, and prickly ash, provide good caterpillar food (larva food) for different species of caterpillars. It’s enjoyable to watch the butterflies lay their eggs on plants such as bronze fennel or parsley, and then watch the caterpillars eat it down to the ground.
Once the butterflies become adults, they are attracted to masses of color, even in a small space. Good nectar-producing plants to attract butterflies include those that are sweet, pungent, and highly fragrant. Butterflies are attracted to simple open flowers and colors such as red, purple, orange, yellow, and pink. Some good nectar plants include butterfly bush, lantana, sunflower, coneflower, aster, pentas, zinnia, salvia, cosmos, and impatiens.
A planting that includes butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), Verbena bonariensis, Salvia ‘Black and Blue’, feather grass, Stipa tenuissima, and Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) will appeal to butterflies all summer long.
So plant for the butterflies and this summer you can enjoy eastern tiger swallowtails, zebra swallowtails, and maybe even giant swallowtails.