There’s no disputing butterflies are the most beautiful insects. They are unique, colorful and fun to watch. Butterflies are so desirable, there are entire gardens dedicated to them, but their real beauty lies in the services they provide our landscapes. Did you know butterflies pollinate as they travel from flower to flower? Unfortunately, butterfly numbers are declining due to overuse of pesticides, habitat loss and climate change. So creating a butterfly-friendly garden is not just a fun activity but also contributes to a healthy environment.
Did you know?
- Butterflies cannot fly when their body temperature is below 85°F. As a result they like to feed in the sun.
- Butterflies’ colors help them attract mates, absorb heat and provide some protection while they fly and feed among colorful flowers.
- Puddling is where butterflies gather around a small puddle of water or damp earth to get essential minerals. Small amounts of standing water is one way to keep butterflies around longer.
- Butterflies live two days to 11 months.
- Antennae are used to “smell.”
- Butterflies migrate to avoid cold weather.
- Butterflies undergo metamorphosis or a major change to their form and how they eat. They begin life as caterpillars then transform into butterflies.
- There are four basic ways to attract butterflies to your yard: traditional gardening, flower pot gardens, butterfly houses and feeders. All or one can be used to attract butterflies. So no matter the skill level, there is some way everyone can attract butterflies to their yard.
Best Flowers for Butterflies:
These are not the only plants that attract butterflies but they are native to Oklahoma and therefore acclimated to the climate.
- *Latin Name: Salvia leucantha/Common Name: Mexican Sage Brush
- *Latin Name: Lantana/Common Name: Lantana
- *Latin Name: Buddleia davidii/Common Names: Summer Lilac, Butterfly-bush or Orange Eye
- Latin Name: Echinacea purpurea/Common Name: Purple Cone Flower
- *Latin Name: Pentas/Common Name: Pentas
- *Latin Name: Verbena/Common Name: Verbena (trailing and moss types do best)
- *Latin Name: Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’/Common Name: Threadleaf Coropsis
- Latin Name: Gaura lindheimeri/Common Name: Guara
* indicates plant grows well in a container or flower pot.
The Basics of Gardening for Butterflies:
- Grow a variety of different nectar producing plants that bloom at different times of the year. The longer the food sources last the longer butterflies will remain in your yard.
- Plant native flowers. Butterflies in Oklahoma are going to be attracted to flowers that grow naturally in Oklahoma.
- Color is key. Butterflies are attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink and purple.
- Plant flowers where they will receive full sunlight all day. Butterflies like to feed in the sun.
- Ditch the pesticides. Healthy plants can fight off bugs fairly well. Know how much water each plant needs and use organic fertilized when needed.
- The key to attracting and maintaining butterflies in a yard is to provide food for their young or caterpillars. Doing so will bring new generations of butterflies throughout the summer. Unfortunately, caterpillars generally eat different plants than adult butterflies. The one exception is clover, whose flowers are nectar-producing and larvae will eat the leaves. Clover can be a beautiful and low maintenance addition to your garden that will keep butterflies happy.
- Other plants that serve as food for larvae are herbs such as dill, fennel, parsley and chives and vegetables such as tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli. Keep in mind that the caterpillars will damage the plants and may reduce or stop the harvest, so plant a few extra plants if gardening for a fruit harvest.
- Another fun way to bring butterflies to the yard is to buy caterpillars and raise them. Kits are available online that provide the caterpillars, food, jars and a net house for the adult butterflies.
Flower Pot Butterfly Gardens:
- Don’t have a yard? Try growing flowers and herbs in pots. If you don’t have a spot that gets full sun most of the day, store pots in a wagon and wheel them into the sunlight every day. Flower pot gardening is different than traditional gardening in many ways and requires a few adjustments. Here are a few tips for an outstanding flower pot garden.
- Use mulch to help the soil retain moisture.
- Select the correct pot size for the plant. Check to see how big the plant will get. If the pot is too small the plant may become unhealthy and will not produce as many flowers or fruit.
- Only use pots with drainage holes. Water sitting at the bottom of the pot will rot the roots.
- Spend the extra money on potting soil. It is a special mix designed to retain water.
- The larger the pot the less often the plant needs to be watered.
- Be careful when growing plants together in the same pot. Not all plants grow well together. Do a little research ahead of time.
Even butterflies don't like the wind:
- Most flowering plants and butterflies need shelter from the crazy wind here in Oklahoma. Wind lowers the body temperature of butterflies making flying impossible and limits the blooming time of the flowers. But creating simple wind breaks can solve this problem. Just be careful that the wind breaks do not shade the flowers. Cooler winds in Oklahoma come from the north and west. Place wind breaks on the north and west side of your garden to maximize its benefits. Rocks, trees, fences and/or vines are a few items that can be used as wind breaks.
- If wind breaks aren’t an option, try a butterfly house. There are plenty of low-cost kits that can be purchased online or free plans to build a wooden one. A fun and free option in the Oklahoma City area are The Home Depot workshops for kids held the first Saturday of the month. The projects vary from month to month but they do offer butterfly houses from time to time. To find a workshop, visit www.homedepot.com.
Attracting butterflies when you have a "black thumb"
DIY Butterfly Feeders:
Don’t have a “green thumb” or not interested in gardening? Add a butterfly feeder near a butterfly house. This pair will give the butterflies food and shelter with relatively little work and upkeep. Adding silk flowers to the feeders will make them more visually appealing to the butterflies. Remember to clean out feeders regularly to decrease the chance of attracting unwanted bugs.
This is a very easy feeder to put together and there are plenty of ways to dress it up. The disadvantage is that it is light and doesn’t do well in the wind. If it is going to be a particularly windy day just take it down.
Materials: tin pie plate, nail, over-ripe fruit, small bright colored sponge, red sugar water (1 part sugar dissolved in 9 parts boiling water plus red food coloring), string, scissors.
Punch four holes equidistance apart on the lip of the pie tin.
Cut string into four equal lengths. These should be at least 18 inches long.
Tie one string to each hole in the pie plate.
Hang feeder in a bright area. Preferable close to a window or door.
Place sponge and over-ripe fruit in the bottom of the plate.
Fill sponge with sugar water.
*Optional – Paint the bottom of the pie plate a red, yellow, orange, pink or purple. These colors attract butterflies.
Activities that attract butterflies are not only good for Oklahoma but are a fun way to get kids excited about spending time outdoors. The temptation for kids to spend all day on electronics is real and it can be challenging to find activities that entice them outside. Gardening for butterflies gives the kids a tangible reward for their efforts.
Any new project can seem overwhelming, so start with a small garden then add different features that will attract a wider range of butterflies as experience is gained. Most kids will be ecstatic to see butterflies using what they have worked hard to create.
Mae Kiggins is a blogger and Edmond mom of two. Read more of her ideas for outdoor fun at her blog.