Planting for Butterflies

This spring, a large amount of our kids’ time has been spent trying to catch backyard wildlife to bring inside as “pets”.  Currently in my backyard I have four “traps”.  We hung a bird feeder, which is currently populated by sparrows.  I’m not sure how long it takes for word to travel amongst the sparrow population, but eventually they may figure out that each time they land for a snack, two eager preschoolers come running out the door to try to grab them.  I have an ant trap on the patio.  Not an ant-trap filled with poison, but rather a welcoming home for them made from a sandwich container, and filled with rocks.  A similar ladybug home sits nearby, but filled with dust from last year’s sidewalk chalk remnants (because of course that’s appealing to ladybugs!).  There is a worm farm on the deck (from April’s Young Gardeners’ workshop).  There are old carrots lying around, which I am under strict instructions are for the bunny, who we will (apparently) catch and bring inside.  However, all the efforts to attract wildlife to the yard are not just the kids’.  I also have made a contribution, in the form of a butterfly planter. I’m not about to advocate feeding the neighbourhood bunnies with your leftover veggies, but making an area of your garden attractive to butterflies is much less damaging to the other plants in your yard.

butterfly with caterpillar

Butterfly planters or gardens need to be in full sun, and may contain a variety of trees/shrubs, annuals and perennials.  The plants can reflect the needs of either the caterpillars, or butterflies or both!

Plants that caterpillars love: blueberries, cabbage, cherries, dill, hops, grasses & sedges, milkweed, parsley, pussy-toes, sunflowers, violets, wild mustard, and wild plums

Plants that butterflies love:

Annuals: ageratum, alyssum, butterfly weed, cosmos, dianthus, geranium, heliotrope, impatiens, lobelia, marigold, milkweed, nasturtiums, petunia, salvia, verbena, zinnia

Perennials:  asclepias (butterfly weed) asters, black eyed susan, coneflower, daylily, gaillardia, goldenrod, lavender, monarda, sunflower, wild bergamot

Trees & Shrubs:  chokecherry, crabapple, lilac, honeysuckle

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When attracting butterflies to your yard, you can also include some homemade butterfly nectar, and food.  Butterflies love rotting fruit, especially bananas.  If leaving fruit out, remember to replace it once it dries out, or becomes mouldy.

Homemade Butterfly Nectar:

Mix 10 parts water with 1 part sugar, boil for 2 minutes.
Let cool and place in a shallow container (like a plant saucer).
Add a paper towel, saturated in the mixture, or a bright orange/yellow scrub pad.  The bright colour will help attract them, and provide a place for them to rest on.
The saucer can be placed amongst flowers, or on a post, or table nearby.
Extra solution can be stored in the fridge, and used to replenish the saucer as needed.

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Once you’ve made your planter, sit back and watch carefully and patiently for the butterflies to arrive. And if you are so inclined, feed the bunnies, trap the ants and ladybugs while you’re at it!