Butterfly gardening is designed to create an environment that attracts butterflies, as well as certain moths. Butterfly gardening is often aimed at inviting those butterflies and moths to lay eggs as well. Because some plants are not fed upon by adult butterflies, the caterpillar host should also be planted for a bigger population of butterflies. Butterflies typically feed on the nectar of flowers, and there are hundreds of such plants that may be planted to attract them, depending on the location, time of year, and other factors. In addition to the planting of flowers that feed butterflies, other means of attracting them include constructing "butterfly houses", providing sand for puddling, water, and other resources or food items, including rotten fruit.
Reasons for butterfly gardening
Some people only like to look at the butterflies, while others like to take pictures as well. Others try to help the butterfly population by planting native plants which rare or threatened butterflies feed on. Done correctly, butterfly gardening can increase the populations of butterflies. Many butterflies are becoming less abundant as a result of habitat destruction and fragmentation, and they do not feed on the plants regularly found in gardens. Others may also help in tagging monarch butterflies, which helps scientists monitor the monarch population and their migratory routes. Butterflies also serve as flower pollinators and attracting the butterflies can also assist in the pollination of nearby plants. Typically, flowers of plants that attract butterflies also attract other insect pollinators. Butterfly gardening can also serve as an educational opportunity for children and can be a relatively safe way to introduce them to the natural world.
Butterflies have many predators, including mantids, wasps, spiders, birds, ants, true bugs, and flies in the family Tachinidae. If these predators are becoming a problem, they can be controlled with traps rather than pesticides, which may also kill butterflies and their larvae. There are also diseases that afflict butterflies, such as bacteria in the genus Pseudomonas, the nuclear polyhedrosis virus, and Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, which only infects queen butterflies and monarch butterflies.
In the absence of pesticides, aphids and true bugs may infest plants. Some gardeners may wish to release ladybugs (ladybirds) and other biological pest control agents that do not harm butterflies in order to control aphids. However, the release of ladybugs is not a good idea in places such as the United States where the species that is released is generally the invasive Chinese ladybug. An alternative to this is to wait for local predatory insects to find the aphids. One technique some use to quicken this process if the infestation is particularly high is to spray the bushes with a mix of sugar and water, simulating aphid honeydew. This is known to attract lacewings whose larva eat aphids. Another method of control is by spraying the plants with water, or rinsing plants with a mild dish detergent/water solution (although caterpillars should be relocated before suds are applied). Scented detergents are fine; those containing OxiClean should be avoided. The aphids will turn black within a day, and eventually fall off. One last technique is to plant a variety of different flowers, including ones that attract hoverflies and parasitic Braconid wasps, whose larvae kill pest species. Still, it is not advisable to kill all aphids, just to control them so that they are not detrimental to plants. Aphids still play a role in the environment by providing food for predators. There are even some caterpillars such as the harvester which only eat certain aphid species instead of plants.
With small home butterfly gardens, it is common for the larvae to exhaust the food source before metamorphosis occurs. Gardeners of monarch butterflies can replace the expended milkweed with a slice of pumpkin or cucumber, which can serve as a substitute source of food for monarch caterpillars in their final (fifth) instar. Planting multiple plants in clumps can help lower the chances of running out of leaves.
Efforts to increase butterfly populations by establishing butterfly gardens require particular attention to the target species' food preferences and population cycles, as well to the conditions needed to propagate their food plants. For example, in the Washington, D.C. area and elsewhere in the northeastern United States, monarch butterflies prefer to reproduce on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), especially when its foliage is soft and fresh. As monarch reproduction in that area peaks in late summer when most Asclepias syriaca leaves are old and tough, the plant needs to be cut back in June – August to assure that it will be regrowing rapidly when monarch reproduction reaches its peak. In addition, Asclepias syriaca seed needs a period of cold treatment known as stratification before it will germinate.
Research should be conducted as to what species are prevalent in your area, and what plants they prefer to nectar on. Depending on your zone, some butterfly attracting plants include: purple cone flowers (Echinacea purpurea), yellow cone flowers, sunflowers, marigolds, poppies, cosmos, salvias, some lilies, asters, coreopsis, daisies, verbenas, lantanas, liastris, milkweed (especially for the monarch butterfly, whose caterpillars feed solely on this plant), the butterfly bush (also called buddleia), zinnias, pentas, porterweeds, and others. Avoid cultivars of plants that have "double flowers" (more petals which block the center) as these can be difficult for butterflies to access. Care should also be taken to research a species, to make sure it is not invasive in your region.
In addition to expanding the number of species seen in your yard, provide host plants that feed the caterpillars. This is just as important as planting flower beds with nectar-rich blooms.
- Butterfly house (conservatory)
- Category: Lists of Lepidoptera by food
- Category: Lists of butterflies
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