4-H/Youth Development: Build a butterfly garden
Source: Blake Newton, extension specialist 4-H youth development, entomology
Young people often list butterflies among their favorite insects. Planting flowers these insects prefer can help attract more butterflies to your garden. Asking your 4-Her to help, gives you the opportunity to share gardening skills with them and helps instill in them an appreciation for these colorful insects and nature.
Location is very important. Insects are cold blooded, which means they cannot internally regulate their body temperature. Butterflies will readily bask in the sun when it is warm, but few are seen on cloudy days. It is a good idea to leave open areas for butterflies to sun themselves, as well as partly shaded areas with trees or shrubs for shelter.
Butterflies like puddles. Males of several species congregate at small rain pools, forming puddle clubs. Permanent puddles are easy to make. Bury a planter saucer or aluminum pie pan to the rim, fill it with gravel or sand, and then pour in sweet drinks or water.
Different types of butterflies have different color and taste preferences. A wide variety of nectar-producing plants will attract the greatest diversity of visitors. Try staggering wild and cultivated plants, as well as blooming times. Groups of the same plants are easier for butterflies to see than single flowers. Aster, butterfly weed, purple coneflower and verbena attract many species of butterflies. Overripe fruit is attractive to butterflies as well.
When planning your butterfly garden, consider turning it into a Certified Monarch Waystation. A monarch waystation is full of milkweeds, which are the only plants eaten by monarch butterfly caterpillars. A monarch waystation is great for other butterflies and pollinators as well, and it can also double as a rain garden since many types of milkweeds thrive in wet areas. Monarch waystations do not have to be particularly large and are no more difficult to maintain than other butterfly gardens. For help with creating your waystation and getting it certified, visit www.monarchwatch.org/waystations/.
Water your garden with soaker hoses whenever possible. Overhead watering can wash nectar from the flowers and reduce the amount of available food.
Another way to attract butterflies to your garden is to offer food plants for females to lay their eggs. Some females are picky about the host plants where they will lay their eggs. To attract a particular type of butterfly, you may need to know the plant needs for the adult and the larvae or caterpillar.
Butterfly gardens are a great source for learning about your own backyard environment. They also offer enjoyment, photo opportunities and an outlet for artistic talent. By creating a garden habitat, you can help conserve butterflies by providing food, water and shelter to some of nature’s most enchanting creatures.
For more information about 4-H gardening projects, contact the Woodford County Cooperative Extension Service.