How-to: Make a butterfly garden
By CG Lifestyles & People Editor Neal Patten
If you are spending the break in Athens you have likely noticed that the city has quieted down tremendously over the past few weeks. If you are finding yourself lonely as we enter into the dog days of summer, then you should invite some winged companions into your life! Creating a butterfly garden is a simple way to brighten any yard or balcony. Your fluttering friends will keep you company as you soak up the sun these next two months. It is relatively easy and inexpensive to build a special space for one of nature’s most beautiful insects.
If you are living in a house, you will want to create this space outside in the yard. Forming a border for your garden with rocks will make it clear it is a delicate space that should not be trampled through. If you peruse around your neighborhood you should find suitable rocks and will not have to purchase any. If you are living in an apartment, a window box garden will work just as well.
The ideal location would be a prominent spot for your viewing pleasure. It should be sunny at least six hours a day. Butterflies cannot fly if they are too cold, so a special flat-surfaced rock provides a comfortable location to bask in the sun until they are ready for takeoff. You also need to pay special consideration to the direction of the wind. Butterflies will not enjoy your garden if they are battling the breeze all day. A small fence, shrubbery, a wide-trunked tree or even a large rock/boulder will protect butterflies from the wind.
Make sure that the soil you use drains well. If you need to add new soil to your garden or window box – organic is the way to go! (see more below)
You will want to identify the types of butterfly species that inhabit the area where you live. Different species are attracted to different varieties of flowers and plants, so the key to a successful butterfly garden is proper research. An excellent resource for this is The Butterfly Site. The website allows you to see indigenous butterflies separated by state. Clicking the individual species will provide multiple pictures by which to identify each and will explain their favorite plants. Another nifty feature is the ‘sightings table,’ which allows for visitors to upload their own images of various species and where/when they saw the butterfly (the site is popular, so the sightings table is updated weekly for most species). If you want to make it easy on yourself, the Monarch is attracted to plants of the milkweed variety and Zinnias are beloved by most species. Butterfly Bush (buddleia) will also bring in a broad range of species. Although a little effort will go a long way in inviting a greater diversity of flying friends to your space.
An important tip about the types of plants you choose: you need two kinds. First, you will need feeding plants. These provide butterflies with much-needed nectar. Second, you need host plants. Host plants are sturdy flowers on which butterflies will feel comfortable laying their eggs. Offering a well thought out variety of plants will ensure butterflies can both nourish themselves and reproduce.
Do not spread out the flowers to be aesthetically artistic. It is important you plant them in bunches, this makes it easier for the butterflies to feed and the burst of color will be more attractive. Although you should be attentive to the specific types of plants mentioned at The Butterfly Site, butterflies are most attracted to reds, oranges, yellows, pinks and purples.
Butterflies often gather around wet, muddy ground because drinking the nutrients help them reproduce. It is important to create a ‘pond’ for them. This is easier than it may sound. Use a shallow dish or bowl and dig it into your garden. Make sure the rim is even with the ground surface. Fill it to the top with sand or pebbles. Then add water to rim level. It is essential that you add the sand/pebbles or else the butterflies will have nothing to perch upon while drinking. Using stale beer or flat soda will be especially attractive due to the sugar and will provide the same level of nutrition.
Finally, butterflies enjoy sweet and overripe fruit. Placing slices of fruit such as bananas, oranges or pears on a tray or hanging it in a basket from a pole will be an added incentive to stay a while in your garden. They can smell the fruit from several miles away.
4. Pest Control
It should go without saying that pesticides are a bad idea in your butterfly garden. Butterflies are extremely sensitive to chemicals, so it is best not to risk it even if a product promises to be “butterfly safe.” Instead, plant natural insect repellants such as mint or place a few garlic cloves around the garden (this wards off ants, cockroaches and more).
5. Buy Local
While box stores such as Wal-Mart and Lowe’s undoubtedly could provide for all your gardening needs, you are unlikely to find the type of helpful expertise you could use at such markets. Instead, shop at a local gardening store – the employees there are often trained to answer your questions. Athens has several plant and garden stores that should meet all your needs:
Companion Plants (they have a special section on their website just for butterfly attracting plants!)
Visit these nurseries with a few plants already in mind, or just explain your project when you get there. The employees will be happy to help you establish a healthy butterfly sanctuary.
This is a fun summer D.I.Y. project. It should only cost you between $15 and $30 altogether, making it an affordable way to add color to the hot summer days. As many butterfly species become endangered due to the destruction of livable habitats, creating a small garden in your yard or on a balcony will go far in helping preserve these wonderful creatures. Apart from a few plants, you should already have everything you need around the house/yard. So don’t let the heat keep you inside this break – get your College Green thumb on and go build a butterfly paradise!
“Stay near me – do not take thy flight! A little longer stay in sight! Much converse do I find in thee, historian of my infancy!“
- from ‘To A Butterfly’ by William Wordsworth