Butterfly Gardening

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Butterfly gardening consists of growing plants that butterflies need to stay alive. The types of plants needed are generally divided into two broad categories - host plants and nectar plants.

Host plants are the plants that the butterfly caterpillars eat. Most adult butterflies sip flower nectar as a food source, these plants are the nectar plants. Adults of some butterfly species use rotting fruit, carrion and animal waste as a food source instead.

While some butterfly species have a preference for some nectar sources over others, for the most part any good butterfly nectar source will be used by most butterflies. For detailed information about specific nectar plants, see my Nectar Plants section.

Host Plants

Each butterfly species uses only one or a handful of specific plant species as a host plant. For example, Monarchs will only lay eggs on milkweed plants, and Monarch caterpillars will only eat milkweed. If they run out of milkweed they will die, they will not eat anything else. Zebra Swallowtails will only use PawPaw as a host plant.

It isn't practical for most people to provide host plants for every species that lives in their area. Where I live, for example, there are roughly 80 different species of butterflies. I couldn't possibly provide plants for all of them, with the yard size we have. A big reason is because some butterflies use trees as host plants, and we don't have room to grow more trees.

It is possible to grow plants for many different species though. For example, I have host plants for around 20 different species of butterflies in my garden and hope to add more in the future.

For detailed information about specific host plants, see my Host Plant section.

Attracting Butterflies

To attract adult butterflies in your garden it is best to grow both host and nectar plants. Both male and female adults will come to sip nectar from the flowers. If appropriate host plants are also present they will stay in the area longer. Males of many species tend to 'hang out' near host plants to 'meet' females and females will come to lay eggs.

Raising Caterpillars

Since only around 1% of the butterfly eggs laid will survive to become an adult butterfly many people like to raise the caterpillars in a protected area to reduce their chance of being eaten by a predator. This is not necessary, but can be fun and a great learning experience.




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