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Great Ideas to Attract Butterflies to Your Yard

April 14, 2016

Spring is such a glorious time of renewal. Plants which have withered to nothingness, burst forth again with life and beauty. There’s really nothing like it, and it makes enduring a Midwest winter almost worth it. Almost.

One of the sure signs of warmer weather is the return of the butterflies. With all their wonderful colors they are truly tiny masterpieces, flitting through the yard. Caring for these creatures can really be fun, especially if you have little ones around the house. Attracting them to your garden can be a great pastime, for both young and old.

There are a few tricks to know, but thankfully only a few. But first, let’s get to know our friends, the butterflies, a bit more…

As with all God’s creations, the variety and creativity is simply astounding. According to the North American Butterfly Association, there are 20,000 different species of butterflies in the world. Roughly 725 of those species are found in North America. Butterflies range in size from a tiny 1/8 inch, to nearly 12 inches!

One of the most common mistakes we make when noticing butterflies is confusing a butterfly with a moth. In general, butterflies are very colorful and almost all are active exclusively during the day. In contrast, most moths are subdued in their color and active only at night. Much of the confusion occurs with a few species of butterflies which are dull in color, and a few types of moths which are brilliantly colored! So to be sure, the best way to distinguish moths and butterflies is to look at their antennas. Butterfly antennas are shaped like a golf club (with the club “head” at the end), while moth antennas are simply straight, coming to a clear point at the end.

So once you know what you’re looking for, or looking at, there are a handful of plants which are ideal to attract beautiful butterflies to your yard. Some of these plants are the main food source for common butterflies, so they are the perfect way to care for these creatures, as you create beautiful gardens to enjoy. It’s always best to not use any pesticides on any of the plants listed, in order to keep the butterflies happy and healthy!

These plants provide the perfect food for butterflies:

  • Milkweed
  • Parsley
  • Alfalfa
  • Fennel
  • Queen Anne’s Lace
  • Daisies
  • Hollyhock
  • Coneflower
  • Black-eyed Susans
  • Forget-me-nots
  • Marigolds

A handful of other plants provide sustenance, and also attract an unusually wide variety of butterflies. These are also beautiful in gardens, and include many common bushes and trees. Again, pesticide-free will give you the best results!

  • Clover
  • Butterfly bush
  • Goldenrod
  • Sunflower
  • Dogwood when flowering (bush)
  • Poplar (tree)
  • Hackberry (tree)
  • Blueberry (bush)
  • Black walnut (tree)
  • Almost all types of Oak (tree)

Lastly, you can use your vegetable garden to feed your family and attract these flying works of art!  Try planting celery, peppermint, turnips, radishes, okra, fennel, dill, broccoli, brussel sprouts, carrots and cabbage. For added attraction, put sliced oranges here and there among your plants. Run a knife along the tops of the slices to release the juice and make it easy to slurp up!

One final idea to really bring in the butterflies, is to give them an irresistible concoction, call Butterfly Brew! You can buy it in the store, or make it yourself using one of a variety of recipes you can easily find online by Googling “Butterfly Brew”. They seem to differ just a bit, based on your climate, but most combine over-ripe bananas, beer and sugar! The mixture you create can be left in a dish, painted on rocks and fence posts, or soaked up by a sponge which is then hung from a low tree branch. Butterflies especially like to drink from a sponge, so an easy feeder idea is to place a Brew-soaked sponge in the center of a large, upside-down margarine container lid. Voila!

Just as we care for the critters who share our home, we can care for the critters who share our yard. Try out a few of these plants or whip-up a batch of “Brew” and enjoy the show!

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I don't have a yard but it occurs to me that a window box might be useful, too. A sponge soaked with over-ripe bananas, beer and sugar sounds pretty nifty. It almost might explain why butterflies have such apparently erratic flight patterns.
Some years ago at a convention in Seattle I witness the very unusual: outside the convention center in the garden: a perfectly vertical column of butterflies in flight, rising and falling steadily. I dearly wished I had a camera to photo this phenomenon, since I will likely never see it again.



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