There’s nothing quite like watching an adult catch a wild insect they’ve been after for years — especially if it’s one of those rare species from another planet or realm. In my case I’m talking about dragonfly nymphs, damselflies, ladybugs, hover flies… and now monarch caterpillars. The latter are still new to me so I’ll let you know when we get them down pat.
Butterflies are incredibly easy to keep coming back to your yard because they’re attracted by bright colors and patterns. They love flowers and plants that have vibrant blues, purples, reds and oranges – including some shades not typically associated with nature.
They also tend to prefer plant parts that grow close together rather than far apart. So think shrubs alongside flower beds instead of trees away from gardens.
And don’t forget to include native flowering plants wherever possible as this helps build biodiversity.
This isn’t rocket science but just good old fashioned common sense. If you want to create a truly gorgeous garden that attracts all types of wildlife you can follow these tips below on how to attract butterflies.
- 1. Plant Your Garden With Honeysuckle
- 2. Prepare and Beautify Your Garden To Attract Butterflies
- 3. Plan A Strategy For Your Garden
- 4. Choose The Right Size Of Your Garden Space
- 5. Use Natural Catches Or Feeders To Keep Them Coming Back!
- 6. Grow Plants That Butterflies Love
- 7. How To Attract Butterflies In The Spring And Summer
1. Plant Your Garden With Honeysuckle
These fragrant honeysuckles produce huge clusters of tiny white flowers which open up into very attractive orange berries. These beauties are perfect for attracting most kinds of pollinators and hummingbirds alike.
You may already be familiar with other varieties of ‘honeysuckle’ known for their beauty such as Lonicera periclymenum or japonica honeysuckles. However, there are many more species out there that haven’t yet caught on with us western folks. Our friend here is likely to put on a spectacular display next spring once she starts producing her little fruits.
Honeysuckles make great privacy hedges around borders and walkways too. Cut off any dead growth at ground level before pruning the rest using sharp secateurs or loppers. Then wait until early summer when the blossoms start appearing and cut each stem right above where it first shows itself.
Make sure you remove any remaining buds too. Now go ahead and fill in every gap between stems with small stones or gravel. It’s important to do this to prevent unwanted seedlings popping up later on. Finally add some compost over everything and water well.
If you live somewhere cold try planting them further north. Or pick different ones from colder climates altogether. There are plenty of species suitable for cooler areas. Just check online resources for what grows best locally.
2. Prepare and Beautify Your Garden To Attract Butterflies
While it’s tempting to focus on particular seasons, you actually don’t have to stick to this approach. Most butterflies enjoy flying during warmer months anyway.
Some species emerge en masse late in April and continue migrating throughout May. Others appear in August and stay active right through autumn. Even better, several species migrate southwards again in January ready to welcome spring.
So you could potentially set aside part of your garden for year round enjoyment. Alternatively you might decide to change its purpose slightly depending on the time of year. Maybe switch from hosting your Christmas party to becoming a seasonal outdoor cafe? Whatever works for you, embrace the notion of flexible landscaping.
On average, caterpillars eat five times their body weight daily. When mature they lose much of their moisture content and spend long periods resting underground. Once awakened however, they usually return to feeding mode without respite.
3. Plan A Strategy For Your Garden
Planning is vital if you want butterflies to flock to your backyard. Ideally it needs to feature a variety of places for them to land and lay eggs. Creating this kind of environment takes planning and hard work. Remember that caterpillars are hungry and won’t hang around waiting forever.
Take advantage of plentiful rainwater drainage systems. Otherwise excess rain can lead to fungal disease outbreaks. Be mindful of nearby pollution hotspots and avoid spraying pesticides. Caterpillar larvae are sensitive to toxic chemicals so you definitely shouldn’t apply anything directly onto the plants, surface or area surrounding your property.
Choose a healthy mixture of flowering perennials, biennials and herbaceous bedding plants for maximum appeal. Diversity is key. Maintain existing plots and encourage new shoots to develop. Dig over regularly to loosen compacted soils. Ensure plenty of nitrogen rich fertilizer gets used and never cut back foliage excessively. By doing this you ensure that tender young plants receive adequate nourishment to thrive.
Remember that you might want to leave untouched some bushes and shrubbery near your house for birds and bats to nestle inside. Remove saplings and smaller trees from public spaces too. Doing this allows everyone to share a unique piece of countryside together.
4. Choose The Right Size Of Your Garden Space
As previously discussed, caterpillars require ample landing surfaces. Take extra care to maintain a diverse selection of plants so that they’re able to find shelter from bad weather conditions and predators.
Your choice of location plays a big role in determining size requirements. Consider factors such as prevailing wind direction, proximity to buildings, traffic noise levels and whether your plot faces north or east.
Don’t underestimate the importance of having access to electricity and running water. Both of these features allow you to attract helpful organisms such as bees and moths.
Consider installing solar panels or installing a grey-water system. Water conservation measures such as reducing lawn watering times and encouraging native flora will reduce chemical usage. Check out National Wildlife Federation’s Solar Gardener website for more information.
5. Use Natural Catches Or Feeders To Keep Them Coming Back!
Catching butterflies requires patience and persistence. While you can purchase expensive equipment, it’s cheaper to rely on free alternatives. Nature provides many opportunities to trap and capture winged wonders.
Try building your own version of a butterfly bar. This involves constructing a wooden frame approximately 10cm high fitted with narrow strips of mesh screening attached to the top and bottom. Poke holes for ventilation all around the sides and place it in full sun position.
Fill the cage with strong smelling scented flowers such as roses, lilies and carnations. Cover the whole thing loosely with netting secured with string. Wait until mid morning then introduce two female specimens. After a few hours release them into your garden, being careful not to disturb their delicate wings too much during this process.
Moths are less prone to fly at this time of day so wait until later in the day when they’re more likely to emerge from the foliage. The best way to attract butterflies is by providing them with nectar rich flowers that are also in full bloom at this time of year such as nasturtiums, marigolds, lavender, hollyhock, zinn ias, daisies, cosmos, sunflowers and zephyranthes (commonly known as Zinnia).
6. Grow Plants That Butterflies Love
Many people mistakenly believe that only certain types of plants are particularly friendly to butterflies. That simply isn’t true. Any type of garden should provide habitat and food sources for both birds and bugs. Here are some general guidelines though.
For example, large leafy plants work really well. Think yew, holly, boxwood and similar evergreen selections. Shorter grasses and broadleaf weeds work well too. Try growing heather, thyme and lavender amongst tall clumps of marigold and chrysanthemums. Don’t worry about being too literal here: plants aren’t going to fly through the air and settle themselves anywhere!
It’s all about providing enough diversity within your space. Mix things up to give visitors something fresh to look at. Also consider adding low hanging branches, tree fern fronds and even artificial foliage.
Another tip is to use organic matter to mix with soil or potting media whenever possible. Yes, this means giving insects and worms room to roam freely. One way to achieve this is by mixing sand, vermiculite and peat moss (or sphagnum moss) into pots. Another option is to use natural materials made from bark, leaves, twigs and dried pinecones.
When choosing seeds remember to choose lots of different options. Many plants offer multiple benefits to local wildlife. Some attract beneficial wasps, others deter harmful pests. Others help cleanse pollutants while still more protect against erosion. Go forth and sow!
7. How To Attract Butterflies In The Spring And Summer
Once winter has passed and the days begin getting longer you need to take action to start creating a butterfly garden. As mentioned earlier, they generally favor clearings and edges near shade. Give them a reason to visit by filling gaps with colourful flowers.
Here’s a simple list of six ways to lure them closer:
- Create sunny spots under shady cover or behind screens. Fill cracks and crevices with brightly colored petals.
- Add masses of color to your garden border either side of paths or driveways. Consider planting bulbs and annuals in wide planters along fences and walls.
- Create temporary structures, such as birdbaths, pondside ponds and even empty boxes filled with wildflower seed mixes, succulent trays and/or rocks. Place them in conspicuous locations and feed them often.
- Leave some patches of bare earth showing among dense vegetation. Let them become home to bumblebees and solitary bees.
- Provide nesting sites for beneficial insects, such as aphid predators and parasitic wasps. Look for naturally occurring habitats that support them such as rock piles and woodpiles.