Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden
Butterflies are an extremely helpful part of our ecosystem, and promoting a healthy environment for them is a very important step in protecting butterfly populations. Below is a list of plants – along with helpful tips from our experts – to entice butterflies to visit your garden.
Butterflies also love sunflowers! This cheery flower will be sure to brighten your day, and are very easy to grow. Researchers have documented sunflowers as far back as 2600 BC, which is approximately 5000 years ago! Sunflowers are one of the four plants known to have been domesticated in what is now the United States, and are the most economically important due to the many uses of their seeds. Sunflowers are also quite large; the tallest sunflower was over 30 feet tall! In your garden, the will probably average around 5 to 10 feet tall. Smaller varieties, called dwarf sunflowers are even smaller measuring from 12 to 36 inches.
Growing sunflowers in your yard is easy as long as they have access to adequate sunlight. Sunflowers require 6 to 8 hours of direct sun per day. If possible, sunflowers should be grown near some form of shelter to protect them from high winds such as a house or shed. Sunflowers also require a support for them to grow against, such as a fence. Sunflower seeds can be planted directly in your garden as soon as the dangers of frost have passed. They can also be purchased already grown from a garden center, and placed directly into your garden.
Milkweed is a favourite of the magnificent Monarch butterfly. Unfortunately Monarch’s aren’t doing so well these days, and were even placed on a list of special concern in Canada. Monarchs are not quite endangered, but their declining numbers are causing concern to scientists. Planting Milkweed is an excellent way to promote butterflies, specifically Monarch’s in your garden. Monarch butterflies are a species called a specialist which means that they will only lay their eggs in milkweed plants. Planting milkweed in your yard is your best chance to help this beautiful species flourish!
There are over 140 different types of milkweed, but only a handful of them are native to Canada. If you want to plant milkweed in your garden, it is best to use one of the native species, for both legality reasons as some species are considered invasive, and for safety. Some species of milkweed are toxic to animals if too much of it is consumed, so it is best to keep it away from pets. A quick Google search will help you decide which type of milkweed is best for the area you live in!
Milkweed is relatively easy to grow, and can be germinated from trimmings, seeds, and sometimes even root divisions. It is easiest to germinate milkweed indoors, and then transplant the seedlings outdoors, rather than growing the seeds from scratch to begin with. Milkweed plants can be put outside once there is no longer a danger of frost. The seedlings can be planted once they’ve reached between 3 – 6cms in height.
Attracted to their colour, hydrangeas are also a great choice for attracting butterflies (as well as a handful of other insects) to your garden. Typically, butterflies are attracted to white and other lighter coloured flowers, including oranges and yellows. For the most part, hydrangeas have white or light coloured flowers. Furthermore, the heads of hydrangea flowers are quite large making them attractive to butterflies by both colour and size standards. Hydrangeas are typically 3 to 9 feet tall, but there are also tree varieties which can grow to be as large as 25 feet with the proper growing conditions.
Hydrangeas can be purchased in gallon containers, and planted directly into your garden but can also be grown from scratch. Hydrangeas can easily be replanted from cuttings, or even grown directly from seeds. If you grow from a seed, you may be surprised! It is not guaranteed that the new plant will look like its parent as hydrangeas are not “clone” plants. Some varieties of hydrangeas will change colours, from pinks to blues and purples, with the adjustment of the soil pH in your garden.
When growing a hydrangea plant it is best to keep in mind that they need protection from harsh sun, as well as protection from high winds. Hydrangeas don’t require direct sunlight, and can be planted next to a shed/your home to protect them from the harsh afternoon sun. They also require adequate drainage, too damp and the plant will not survive.
Originating from Asia, Africa, and both North and South America, Butterfly bushes are aptly named for being a favourite of butterflies. Their true name is buddleia bush, and they are an excellent candidate for a butterfly garden! This brightly coloured shrub attracts butterflies because of its beautiful colours and the scent is irresistible to butterflies. The plant also produces extremely sweet nectar which butterflies love.
Butterfly bushes are considered an invasive species in some countries, but in Ontario they are perfectly fine. They should be monitored as they can spread to where they’re not wanted if not cared for properly, but are a safe and beautiful addition to any garden! They can be prevented from spreading if seedlings are removed from the garden and they are kept pruned. Cutting back the stalks in spring as well as deadheading will promote new growth and prevent the bush from producing seeds.
Butterfly bushes are also quite hardy, making them an easy to care for plant. Butterfly bushes require full sun, and should be watered quite frequently. However, if the soil gets too damp, and doesn’t have adequate drainage the plant will develop rot and will not survive. Once they’re established, butterfly bushes become quite tolerant to drought.
The final plant on our list is lavender! Lavender is a beautiful purple flower, with a fragrant scent. Lavender oils are often used in relaxation products such as bath bombs, and just so happen to be a favourite of butterflies as well as a few other insects. Butterflies are attracted to the colouration as well as the scent of lavender plants.
Lavender plants are fairly low maintenance, thriving when placed in well-drained soil with minimal care. It grows well in sunny areas of your garden without any fertilization. Lavender is a hardy perennial which will continue blooming into the first frost. Lavender begins blooming in early Spring, and if you’d like to have blooms by the Summer it is best to begin planting in March. Your plants should be pruned once or twice per year.
Lavender does require some room, so it is important to allow adequate spacing between lavender plants. Lavender doesn’t grow well in clay soil, if your garden contains mostly clay soil it is best to balance it out before planting. Lavender also will self-seed! A great quality of lavender aside from being hardy and fragrant is that it will also attract bees. It will also prevent mosquitos as they do not like the plant.
Tips for a Successful Butterfly-filled Garden
- Butterflies require four main things to survive: a nectar source, a food source for their larva, sunshine, and shelter. The plants discussed will provide the butterflies with food, but sunshine and shelter are also needed.
- Gardens with too much tree coverage may not have enough sunshine to attract butterflies, so that is something to keep in mind when deciding if a butterfly garden is right for you.
- Butterflies also need adequate shelter, which can be provided in ways such as butterfly houses, trees, and by planting ornamental grasses for them to hide in during storms.
- A butterfly bath may also assist with the attraction of butterflies. A butterfly bath is similar to a bird bath, although it only has a small amount of water with sand and rocks in it. You also may want to add fruit to the bath, giving them an extra food source.
If you would like to create a butterfly garden in your backyard and aren’t sure how to get started, stop by your local Garden Gallery. We’d be happy to assist you get on track!