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Weekly Gardening Guide: Butterflies in the Garden

July 2, 2015


After our tips on caterpillars, we thought it would be nice to follow up with a piece on butterflies. Unlike those plant-damaging larva, however, caterpillars that become butterflies have small and less aggressive populations, and their feeding often goes unnoticed in home gardens.

We all remember learning about cocoons and chrysalises in school, and the magical metamorphosis of caterpillar into butterfly.  The Monarch butterfly is probably the most recognizable to most people, but we also commonly see Tiger Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, Painted Ladies, Viceroys, and Cabbage White Butterflies.  We have found all of these flitting about the garden centre in the last week or two!

All butterflies and their larva have very specific needs when it comes to feeding.  We all know that Monarchs need milkweed to survive, but every butterfly and caterpillar has a narrow range of plants that sustain them.  Caterpillars generally hatch from eggs on the leaves, branches, or trunks of trees, and feed on the leaves.  Viceroy caterpillars feed on willow and poplar growing in wet locations, and swallowtails prefer ash, cherry, and tulip trees.  Some will feed on herbaceous materials, such as milkweed and Queen Anne’s Lace.

After metamorphosis, butterflies feed on flower nectar, and while they are not terribly particular, they have distinct preferences.  Almost all butterflies love all of our native milkweed (Aesclepias syriaca, A. incarnata, and A. tuberosa).  Swallowtails also love butterfly bush, lilac, loosestrife, and red clover.  We see a variety of butterflies on our pentas and pincushion flowers around the nursery.

Some native flowers that attract butterflies are:

Culver’s Root               Evening Primrose

Coreopsis                    Joe Pye Weed

Ox-eye Daisy               Chelone

Liatris                           Black-Eyed Susan

Bee Balm                     Native Asters


The best way for you to provide a habitat for butterflies in your garden is to plant a good variety of plants for both the caterpillars and butterflies.  With plant diversity, you can attract different species by catering to their individual needs, and reap the benefits with a garden full of butterflies perched on their favorite flowers!

Stop in to see us about our many butterfly-attracting plants!

- Bonnie

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