Butterfly Gardens

A Prairie Garden Journal 2005

One of the fonder memories most of us bring out of our childhood is that of trying to catch a butterfly. These colorful and intriguing insects have captivated children and gardeners alike for centuries. The interest and beauty of plants is certainly worth the effort of gardening, but with just a little more planning, your garden can also have the added interest of garden wildlife—none of which holds more fascination with the gardener than the butterfly.

Many butterflies can be found in Wyobraska gardens at various times throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Most butterflies visit our gardens as part of a migratory pattern that varies with each species, but several species are “native” to the region. You can definitely attract butterflies to your garden with a few design considerations and proper plant selection. Here are a few tips on how to attract these colorful and elusive creatures to your garden.

How to Create A Butterfly Garden

Locate the garden in a sunny area that is protected from wind.
Butterflies and most butterfly-attracting plants require bright sunshine.

Include host plants for larvae in the garden design.
Host plants provide food for caterpillars and lure female butterflies into the garden to lay eggs

Plant nectar-producing flowers.
Butterflies visit flowers in search of nectar, a sugary liquid, to eat. Many native butterflies seem to prefer purple, yellow, orange, and red colored flowers. Clusters of short, tubular flowers or flat-topped blooms provide the ideal shape for butterflies to easily land and feed.

Use large groupings of flowers in your garden design.
Butterflies are first attracted to flowers by their color. Groups of flowers are easier for butterflies to locate than isolated plants.

Plan for continuous bloom throughout the growing season.
Butterflies are active from early Spring through late Fall. Plant a selection of flowers that will provide nectar throughout the entire growing season. (See list)

Include damp areas or shallow puddles in the garden.
Certain kinds of butterflies (mostly males) often are seen on moist sand or mud at the edge of puddles of water near where they feed. The function of these “mud-puddle clubs” is not fully understood, but it is thought that the water contains dissolved minerals needed by the insects.

Place flat stones in the garden.
Butterflies often perch on stones, bare soil, or vegetation, spread their wings, and bask in the sun. This raises their body temperature so they are able to fly and remain active.

Do not use pesticides in or near your butterfly garden.
Most traditional garden pesticides are toxic to butterflies. Most garden insecticides can kill the caterpillar stages of the insects. Adult butterflies can also be killed be resting on insecticide-treated plants.

Butterflies Common to Western Nebraska and Eastern Wyoming

Host Plants for Laying Eggs and Caterpillar Food

Green ash (tree)
Cottonwood (tree)
Chokecherry (shrub)
Globe thistle

Nectar Plants to Attract Adult Butterflies

Butterfly Bush (Buddlei)
Butterfly milkweed

Butterflies common to western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming

Black swallowtail
Checkered skipper
Checkered white
Clouded sulfur
Edwards fritillary
European cabbage butterfly
Gorgone checkerspot
Gray hairstreak
Hackberry butterfly
Melissa blue
Mourning cloak
Orange sulfur
Painted Lady
Silver-spotted skipper
Two-tailed swallowtail
Variegated fritillary
Weidemeyer’s admiral
Western tiger

Visit the Village Garden Center

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