Gardening for Butterflies

butterfly with flower in garden

There’s so much more to your garden’s atmosphere than the plants you put in it. Our yard just isn’t an oasis without other aspects of nature, like chirping birds, rustling leaves, and yes, even insects. One of the most elegant, beautiful insects we can welcome to the garden is the butterfly. It’s hard not to see the beauty of nature with their delicate, colorful wings fluttering around!

Benefits of Butterflies

Aside from their grace and elegance, butterflies actually provide many other benefits to your garden! In their early stages as caterpillars, they help by munching on pesky weeds and leaves that may be home to harmful pests. Although they also feed on perfectly healthy leaves, the damage is minimal compared to the benefits of having more butterflies around. After emerging from their chrysalis, butterflies happily flutter from flower to flower, feeding on the sweet nectar and collecting pollen to move between plants. This process, called pollination, is essential for plant reproduction. While bees are known to be the most extraordinary pollinators, their declining numbers mean that we need the help of others, like butterflies, to keep our gardens going!

Butterflies aren’t the only magnificent, winged creatures to decorate your garden – birds are other beneficial visitors. With more butterflies around, you’ll also attract more birds that swoop in to snack on them!

butterfly and flower

Gardening for Butterflies

There are many ways you can attract more of these beautiful insects to your garden. From plant choice to placement, here are some of our tips on gardening for butterflies:

Provide host plants for caterpillars. If you want your garden to be the first thing butterflies encounter when they emerge from their cocoon, then you’ll have to provide a good environment for their larvae stage, too. While the adult insect is attracted to bright blooms, caterpillars are drawn to the fresh, green foliage of perennials, herbs, trees and shrubs.

Plant sweet, nectar-producing plants. Butterflies live on the nectar of flowers, which they drink through straw-like tongues. If you want them to stick around, you’ll have to provide nectar not just in the spring, but through summer and fall, too!

Plant a variety of flowers, and lots of them! Remember, the more diverse your garden is, the more varieties of butterflies you’ll attract. Since they’re near-sighted, they might flutter by a single bush without even noticing it. Plant flowers in large, colorful masses to catch their attention!

Consider plant placement and garden design. Butterflies love to soak up the sun – in fact, they need the warmth to function! There’s no use in planting your butterfly garden in shaded areas, because the majority of plants butterflies love require full sun to bloom, so opt for an open, sunny spot instead. Another factor to consider is how windy your property is. If you’re often subject to more than a light breeze, consider placing your butterfly garden near a fence, tall trees, or your house for additional shelter. Maybe keep the bird feeder away from your butterfly habitat, too.

Avoid the use of pesticides. While these products are useful at eliminating pests, they’re also good at harming beneficial insects as well. Caterpillars and butterflies are particularly sensitive to the chemicals we spray on our plants. If you want butterflies in your garden, avoid even organic pesticides, because those will also harm butterfly larva. Consider hand-picking pests or using a strong spray of water for aphid infestation, for instance.

butterfly in garden

The Butterfly Plants of SoFlo

We have a special habitat here in Southern Florida where we have the opportunity to grow so many butterfly favorites that the other northern states would be jealous of. Here are some of our favorites that are just as popular with our local pollinators:

Milkweed is a year round hit with the butterflies that is so popular that it should be a staple in your garden if you want these beautiful pollinators to build a habit of coming by to visit. Part of cultivating a butterfly habitat isn’t just plants they like, but consistency – and this is your plant to achieve that. These adorable puffs of blooms come in all kinds of colors and will bloom year after year – try some of the Butterfly Milkweed varieties for a colorful attraction.

Pentas produce colourful clusters of tiny flowers perfect for butterfly grazing, in a spread of colors sure to keep you and your pollinators happy all year.

Jatropha have intense spots of color where their blooms sit in contrast against luxuriously deeply colored foliage. Growing proud and tall as a shrub, these are sure to thrive in your garden, confidently claiming their space and inviting dainty decorative butterflies to their flowers.

Ixora have semi-orbs of miniature blooms clustered together to make for easy butterfly nectar grasing. We love their warm tropical colors most, but they come in many shades ranging from oranges to blushing pinks. All three of these classics will thrill your garden with color from their blooms and their butterflies as they provide delicious nectar all year.

Porterweed has a name that might scare you to put in your garden, but is actually a Florida native that is a delight in the garden with its dainty blue blooms set against lush greenery. As a native to our area, it’ll be a hit that your butterflies recognize and love.

For a flower that brings in beautiful hummingbirds to compliment your butterfly garden, Firespike is an option that you can’t go wrong with. As suggested by the name, it shows off a fiery red-pink spike of trumpet-shaped blooms that these birds will love to hover and feed on.

For those looking for a bolder butterfly statement with some height, Desert Cassia are a great variety of tree that will be covered in Yellow Sulfur Butterflies flocking to their buttery yellow blooms.

jatropha butterfly plant

The Butterflies of Florida

If there are certain species you’re looking to attract, you might need to be a little more specific with your plant choice. Here are some of our favorites, and what you can do to entice them!

Monarchs, with their orange wings with white flecks and black lining, are probably the most emblematic butterfly out there. Monarchs breed in Florida all year long and even migrate here from colder climates during the winter! Since they’re natural travelers, though, it can be hard to keep these nomadic butterflies around. Milkweed is a great garden choice, since both caterpillars and adult monarchs feed on this plant!

Down here in Southern Florida, you’ll find the Florida Purplewing. These tropical butterflies are sure to catch your attention with their stunning, iridescent purple wings. With brown edges and white eyespots, the Florida Purplewing is a natural beauty. They enjoy nectar from cordia and lantana, as well as decaying fruit from fruit trees.

The Miami Blue is another Florida native, most common along the Keys. Their upperside is a mesmerizing shade of purple-blue, and females have an orange dot accented on their lower edge. If you’re lucky enough to have some of these fluttering around, take good care of them, since much of their habitat has been lost to urbanization. Caterpillars like to munch on balloon vine and legumes, while the adults aren’t too picky about their choice of nectar.

Male Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are easy to identify since they get their name from their orange-yellow color and tiger-like stripes! The females are arguably even more stunning, with their shadowed wings and shiny blue pattern. These butterflies are sure to come around if you’ve got lilac, wild cherry, or milkweed in your yard.

butterfly with flowers in garden

Pollinators, like butterflies, help to sustain our environment, which we need to live. It’s only fair that we take care of them in return! With these simple tips in mind, you can create the perfect butterfly oasis, and enjoy their elegant fluttering and stunning colors all year long.

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