May 18th, 2022
Sharing Your Garden with Winged Guests

Q2. What insect does everyone love to see in their backyard? (P32)

Sharing Your Garden with Winged Guests

Plant a Butterfly-friendly Garden Tiger Swallowtail snacking on wild Lupine

By Beth Parker

Everyone loves butterflies. These beautiful, delicate insects have always fascinated us. Pictures and photographs of butterflies decorate many objects that we treasure, and much art and design through the ages have been inspired by butterflies.

When butterflies flutter among the grass and flowers, they add a distinctive character and joy to our outdoor spaces, especially in the city. Sometimes they show up unexpected in your garden, or perch on a sunny window frame for a moment before disappearing as quickly as they appeared. You may notice a certain kind of butterfly that always seems to be fluttering about. Being close to the shoreline of Lake Ontario, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Monarchs, the only butterfly that migrates north and south each year across the lake.

Apart from enjoying these lovely creatures as “decoration”, butterflies are also very beneficial to the environment around us, in particular, in our urban areas. Next to bees, butterflies pollinate much of our plants, including the flowers in your garden, keeping the harvest healthy and producing next year’s seeds. And although we don’t like to think about it, butterfly larvae and butterflies themselves are a food source for birds that help keep our gardens clean and free of unwanted pests.

Unfortunately, in many areas our butterfly populations are dwindling as land is cleared. So this year, why not plant your own butterfly garden? By simply adding a few extra plants or inexpensive additions to your own backyard, you can create a butterfly friendly space. Besides enjoying the beautiful butterflies that come to visit, you’ll make a difference in their habitat and enjoy some new plants and features.

What do butterflies like to eat?

Attracting butterflies to your garden is not difficult. You simply have to have the kind of food that they like! This is pretty easy if you have lots of blooming flowers and sunshine, and you include any number of herbs, grasses, wildflowers, annuals, perennials and shrubs.

But before you start planting, here are some further tips to help. You have to remember that you are feeding both the adult butterfly and the “younger” caterpillar. Female butterflies will often spend a long time searching for the right plant, but plants that are particularly popular with most butterflies include:

• Joe-pye weed, black-eyed susan, zinnia, goldenrod, honeysuckle, daisy, purple coneflower, petunias, marigold, yarrow, New England asters, nasturtium, dill, parsley, oregano, butterfly bush!

• Perfect egg laying plants: milkweed, aster, lupine, violets and black-eyed Susan

Some butterflies, however, only leave their eggs on certain “host” plants, for example, we know that Monarch Butterflies leave their larvae on the milkweed plant. The same applies for the “younger” caterpillars that only feast on certain kinds of leaves.

For the very fussy, here are some plants that attract specific species. You also may want to consult a butterfly guidebook (see resources listed at the end of this article) to see what butterflies are in your area, and what kind of environment they prefer!

New England Asters, Goldenrod, Yarrow and Black Eyed Susan: Monarch butterfly larvae exclusively depend on milkweeds for both food and protection, but the Monarch butterflies love other plants as well as milkweed.

Wild Lupine is the food of choice for the threatened and gorgeous Karner Blue butterfly.

Many butterfly larvae love dill, including the Black Swallowtail; they also enjoy carrots and parsley.

Violets are the food of choice for Great Spangled Fritillary and easy to grow anywhere.

Butterfly bush and Butterfly weed are so popular to butterflies that they are even named after them!

Where do butterflies like to hang out?

Butterflies are attracted by colour, sunlight and protected areas in a garden. You are more likely to see butterflies in a spot that gets a lot of natural light. Make sure there’s some kind of shelter nearby, such as a border tree line, shed or hedge. When it’s windy, butterflies won’t stay and eat if they get tossed about. Also include a little pool of water or wet sand because they like to play in the mud! You can use a bird bath or decorative shallow pan. Other good items that encourage butterflies include:

• A few large stones that absorb heat and light and provide a good resting place when butterflies get tired, pieces of bark tacked to a fence or post.

• Tube or trumpet shaped flowers because they have a “landing platform”.

• A garden that stays in bloom from spring to late fall so there’s a consistent supply of nectar.

Butterflies Notice Colour!

Amazing as it seems, butterflies seem to prefer warm colours such as yellow, orange, pink and purple. Certain types even prefer specific colours! They all like bright colours and will sometimes alight on a brightly patterned shirt that you are wearing! They also find your garden more easily if your garden contains a bright swath of colour.

Special Extra Touches

Worried that you just don’t have enough blooms through the season? You can supplement the garden’s flower nectar with a home-made feeder made from an inverted small jar. Drill a small hole in the center of the lid and plug it with cotton. Fill the jar with a solution of one part sugar (not honey) to nine parts water. Attach bright fabric petals to the lid to make the feeder more appealing and hang your feeder in your garden.

Some butterflies do not feed on flower nectar but prefer ripe fruit so you may want to put out some overripe melon rinds and fruit during the day.

You can make a special butterfly house to shelter your visitors. It needs to be about 6 inches wide by 15 inches tall, with a slanted roof. Cut several slits in the front of the house that are approximately three inches long by a half inch wide. Paint the house bright colours and tack some pieces of tree bar to the front and sides as resting spots. Mount to an existing structure such as a fence, in an area sheltered from the wind.

Keep it natural

Never use pesticides, which aren’t allowed in the City of Toronto. Instead use alternative control methods such as oils, soaps, and microbial insecticides. Remember that oils and soaps you put on plant leaves to kill grubs also kill caterpillars so check both on top and under the leaves before you spray.

Have some fun with your butterfly garden

Decorate with some added touches. Most garden shops as well as craft fairs have butterflyinspired garden art, pottery, wind-chimes, etc.

Create a record of the number and kinds of butterflies that visit, when you see them (time of day, month, season) and the kind of plant where you found them so you’ll know another year what to plant.

Involve children in “butterfly” tracking, looking up the kind of butterfly you saw and then drawing a picture.

Challenge your fellow gardeners to see who gets the most butterfly visits each season.

Finally, once you have your garden, know that it will be protected! Many butterflies are territorial and fight one another in order to chase others out of their territory.

Butterfly Gardening by Vera Krischik
The Butterflies of Canada by Ross A. Layberry, et al
The Butterfly Garden: Turning Your Garden, Window Box
or Backyard into a Beautiful Home for Butterflies
by Mathew Tekulsky, Robert M. Pyle (Designer)

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