Butterfly Gardening


Butterflies in Greek mythology are associated with the soul. When observing them, it isn’t hard to see why the ancient Greeks would think that. There is a certain lightness to them, as creatures of the air. Children feature them in their artwork on a regular basis. Our golden summers are filled with them fluttering about our gardens. Everyone has a memory of butterflies, regardless of age.  

Some species, most notably the Monarch butterfly, are battling extinction due to habitat loss. What if you could help them by using your own garden or planters?  The good news is it’s super easy and, if you do it right, you can even register your garden as a certified wildlife habitat on the National Wildlife Federation’s website. That’s not something that everyone can say!

The first step in butterfly gardening is finding the right location in full or partial sun. Butterflies need the sun in order to warm their wings up for flying and spatial orientation. Plants that thrive in those types of light would be best for a butterfly garden. A water source also needs to be made available to them.

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Butterflies drink by puddling. All you need for this is a shallow dish, some builders’ or play sand, salt, and water. Fill the pan with sand, some salt, and dampen it. It’s best to stage a puddle near your butterfly garden, but not in it. The salt in the pan could kill your plants. Keep the sand damp as it’s needed; there’s nothing worse than going to take a sip of something that’s empty.

There are many plants native to Tennessee that attract butterflies. Black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers are the ones that you’d recognize immediately as they’re included in wildflower seed packets. Jacob’s ladder, Catawba rhododendron, honey locust, New England aster, yarrow, and pink milkweed are all flowers native to our area. Pink milkweed will definitely pull in some royal butterflies and the Monarch butterfly caterpillars eat them. The tulip poplar (our state tree), white hickory, sugar maple, Virginia dogwood, and American ash trees also provide food for butterflies.

Herbs are also good food for both butterflies and people. Cilantro, parsley, sage, lavender, the various mints, thyme, basil, and oregano are all butterfly attracting plants. The herbs are also useful for various recipes and help make your dishes delicious.

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You’ll want to avoid using herbicides and insecticides. The chemicals in those products can kill caterpillars, even if they claim that they won’t harm butterflies; If you worry about pests, there are natural solutions. If aphids become a problem eating up your beautiful plants, ladybugs (native species, not those Chinese lady beetles) will handle them for you.

Butterflies are an important part of our ecosystem. Next to bees, they are one of the best pollinators in the world. It’s important to help them as habitat destruction and industrial farming limits their ability to survive. Scientists use butterflies as an indicator of environmental health around the world. Creating a butterfly garden is an easy way to introduce children to science, that you live with, in a fun and exciting way.

Butterfly gardens also provide opportunities to beautify your home, help pollinators (they won’t be your only visitors).

Go forth and cultivate!