Butterflies are not only beautiful to look at in your landscape; they serve as important pollinators and indicators of the health of our environment. Attracting them to your garden and incorporating some features to get them to stay and make it their home involves a little planning ahead of time for optimum results.
Choose a location that provides some protection from wind. Trees and shrubs that provide wind protection also serve as a safe harbor from rain and predators. The garden should be mostly sunny with some part sun areas. Ensure that any new plantings have access to a convenient irrigation source so they can be successfully established and maintained in good health.
Now you’ll need to choose the plants. Adults feed on the nectar of many flowering trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals and, fortunately, there are usually many choices that will meet your site requirements and your taste preferences. In order to keep the butterflies in your garden, certain plants need to be available to serve as host plants for their young. Determine which species of butterfly are common in your area and that you want to attract. Most species have very few plants on which the caterpillars can feed so those host plants need to be chosen wisely. Determine whether any of the plants you already have are host plants and they can be integrated into your butterfly garden. For example, cassia is a host plant for the Cloudless Sulphur and citrus is a host plant for the Giant Swallowtail.
In choosing your nectar plants, select those that are native or Florida-Friendly as they are lower maintenance, giving you less trouble in the long run. Choose plants that have flowers in a variety of color, size, and shape. Different butterflies like to feed at different elevations, so choose trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals of varying heights. In order to have nectar available throughout the time when the butterflies occur, include plants that bloom at different times of the year. And include some plants that bloom from spring to late fall, like pentas or moss verbena.
Larger plants should be placed in the background with smaller plants layered in the foreground. When you plant smaller annuals and perennials, place them in masses to better attract the butterflies. Consider placing host plants in an area that is in close proximity to the nectar plants, but in an area of your garden that is not a focal point. Host plants can get quite ragged looking from hungry caterpillars!
Good maintenance practices will enhance the health of your garden. Regular fertilization and irrigation if needed will help keep your plants in bloom and healthy; healthy plants are less susceptible to disease and pests. Avoid pesticides as they may harm the very creatures you are trying to attract. Never use Bt or systemic pesticide. If you must, target a pest with lower risk oils or soaps and then only treat the affected plants. Lastly, be aware of beneficial insects that may help you achieve satisfactory control of a pest.
Now that your plants are placed there are several things to do to make your butterfly garden complete. Add a spot where water can puddle on the ground for the adult butterflies to drink. They require minerals from the soil that get dissolved in the water. Also add a rock or log in a sunny spot where butterflies can rest and sun themselves. And consider placing a comfortable place for you to sit and enjoy the beauty of your garden and its inhabitants!
For more information:
Butterfly Gardening in Florida
Gardening Solutions: Gardening with Wildlife