|The image of the butterfly. It represents the beauty of nature, the oncoming of spring, metamorphosis and a change for the better. They can also bring forth the memories of endless, lazy summer days of childhood. Invite these colorful and ethereal spirits of the air into your garden by providing them an environment that is suitable for them.
The fist thing to consider is the location of a butterfly garden. Most butterflies like sunny areas that are edged by wood or stream which is protected from heavy winds. In the mornings they like to sun themselves on flat rocks, spreading out their wings to warm their bodies with the suns rays.
The second most important thing to know is that of course butterflies are insects, as well as their larval form the caterpillar. If you ever hope to establish a friendly place for butterflies to flourish chemical pesticide use is out of the question. Whether it be insecticides or herbicides, they both can harm caterpillars and butterflies and shouldn't be used in a garden built for them. Try to use organic means if a pest problem should arise and even then only spray the plants affected. Even organic sprays can be harmful.
Thirdly, we must consider the whole life cycle of the butterfly. The garden should not only provide flowers for nectar but host plants for the caterpillars. You should also learn to recognize the larval form of your favorite butterflies so you allow them to feed. An alternative is to create a small garden of host plants close to the butterfly garden but out of the way. That way you won't necessarily have to look at all those chewed up plants but you will have fat, happy caterpillars.
Butterflies also need a source of minerals. Butterflies are often observed drinking from mud puddles. This behavior is actually termed puddling . They are actually getting essential minerals out of the mud. You can create an area for your butterflies to puddle with a simple tin pie plant filled with moistened sand. Mix ½ to ¾ cups of salt mixed with a gallon the sand, then keep it moist.
While the common idea is that butterflies get most of their sustenance from flower nectar there are other sources of food that they enjoy. Many like rotting fruit, sap from various trees and even manure! Rotting fruits such as bananas and watermelon can be placed in the garden, but be warned that they might also attract wasps.
Butterflies also appreciate some shelter for those days that are not so nice. Protect your butterflies from rain and wind by including shrubs or tall grasses in the garden plan. You can also create a shelter that maybe used for hibernation during the winter. Build a log pile with alternating perpendicular logs so there are spaces in between for the butterflies. They particularly like logs that have chunks of bark pealing away. The ideal size is 5 feet tall by 6 feet wide. Place this in the shade near host plants.
Creating a butterfly garden can be fun, educational, rewarding and result in a beautiful, colorful and dynamic garden. There is also the added bonus that you will be creating an environment for many other beneficial animals and insects in the garden such as garter spiders, toads, birds, gardener snakes (don't be afraid they eat snails!) beneficial wasps, lady bugs, ground beetles, fireflies (whose larvae attack slugs!), lacewings, hover flies (important pollinators), praying mantis and so many more. In a pesticide free environment like this you may find that any insect problems you may have encountered in the past may not be so prevalent. Get yourself a butterfly guide book and an couple of insect guide books and hunt for butterflies and beneficial insect in the garden. It's great fun for kids and adults!
Click here to find a list of flowers, trees and shrubs that will help you get started. They are listed as hosts for the larval form or as providing nectar for the adult butterfly. All the butterflies listed are those that have been confirmed as being seen in Monroe County by The Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center. You can find images of all of these butterflies and most of the caterpillars plus more information on them at their website.