Are you looking to make a butterfly garden and want to know how to make a butterfly garden? How to first find out if butterflies live in your area? We will discuss the butterfly lifecycle because that is critical for creating habitat and in fact, what is habitat? That’s something we will also discuss. In this post, we will also discuss 10 critical components that are necessary if you want to create a thriving butterfly habitat. We’re going to conserve observe and attract regional butterflies that live in your area. We’re going to discuss the common challenges and we’re going to avoid mistakes that beginners often make.
Where do you plan on placing your butterfly garden?
Butterfly garden location. They’re almost everywhere. So where exactly do you plan on placing your butterfly habitat? Is it in your backyard? Is it in a community park? Is it in school? Is it on a balcony? Because that matters.
We first need to know where the plants are going to go. The good news is any habitat location will pretty much work. It’s ok if you’re in the middle of the desert. And it’s also ok if you’re in the middle of the city. It turns out that butterflies like most insects are almost anywhere. Except for Antarctica. If you’re there you’re going to have a hard time attracting butterflies.
Butterflies are essentially everywhere that there are plants. So, it’s ok if you live in a temperate part of the world. Or if you live in the tropics. That’s even better because generally speaking the closer you are to the equator where it’s warm and humid the more bugs you have and butterflies are insects. If you’re in a hot and steamy place that’s great for insects. But even if you’re in a temperate zone or a cooler climate that’s ok you still have butterflies. Also, you just have them at more specified times of the year.
Now it’s perfectly fine to have a butterfly garden with the plants planted in the ground. That will work. Or some people because of a lack of space or other things that we’ll get into later prefer to keep their plants in containers. And that’s fine too. Butterflies don’t know the difference between a plan to the tin a pot and a plant that’s in the ground. The main thing they’re looking for is healthy leaves and healthy plants. And if you can produce that you can attract butterflies.
Download the resource file: Tips for photographing butterflies From the link below.
The basics of the butterfly lifecycle
It’s really important that we understand butterflies and how they multiply. We need to understand what plants are attractive to them. And that’s more complicated than people generally think it is. So, for starters, all butterflies on the face of the planet earth have the same life cycle. What I mean by that is they go through the same four stages.
However, they start differing when it comes to the time it takes them to go through their life cycle and the details of it. So different butterflies use different plants. Insect development is contingent on ambient temperatures. You can mathematically plot how fast it’s going to take an insect to develop.
Importance of temperatures to making a butterfly garden:
If you know the temperatures where it’s developing. So, the interesting thing is I can be raising monarch butterflies in south Florida and you might be raising monarch butterflies in Minnesota. And we can be raising them at the same time. Let’s say sometime in the middle of the summer. But where I am in Florida at nighttime, for instance, the evening temperatures might be warmer than yours in Minnesota. And so, since my day to day temperatures are warmer. Even if we’re raising monarchs that came from the same eggs mine are going to develop faster than yours.
Because your cooler temperatures will slow down their development. Some butterflies pause their development in cooler months in temperate climates. Each type of butterfly each species has a temperature that it requires a minimum for it to develop. If the temperature gets cooler than that.
Development stops and in some places for instance over winter they might pause their development throughout the entire winter and not pick it up again until spring or until the temperatures get warm enough. So, what that means is if you’re in a warmer climate like where my garden is in south Florida, we don’t ever get cold enough for development to completely stop. It certainly slows down in January and February.
Where our evening temperatures might dip into the 50s on a cold night. But pretty much, they continue to develop year-round. Now compare that to Oregon where I spend my summers in Oregon. Butterflies are basically in a state of diet pause which is kind of like pausing of development through the winter months. So, in the summertime in Oregon, that’s when they develop. But during the cooler months, they slow down development. Regardless of where they are.
Every single butterfly starts as an egg mama butterfly has eggs in her abdomen that have been fertilized by a male butterfly assuming that she’s already mated. And her next job is to find a place to lay those eggs. Now eggs are teeny tiny. It’s the egg of a clouded sulfur butterfly and it’s on a clover plant in time as the temperature allows and humidity and a few other factors. Caterpillars will come out of those eggs. Caterpillars are baby butterflies. Caterpillars are the juvenile stage of the insect.
All caterpillars are babies. Babies don’t have a job other than to eat poop and grow. That’s pretty much all babies do. And that’s also all baby caterpillars do. They are only eating that plans that their mother put them on. That’s the food source that they need to survive. And every species of butterfly on earth has a very limited amount of plants that it can eat as a caterpillar. Some of them only have one kind or at the very least plants of one kind of family. After that caterpillar has eaten enough leaves of its one plant that its mom put it on which we call a host plant. Then its body will start changing internally and it will be prompted to form a chrysalis.
The chrysalis is the third stage of the butterfly lifecycle and because it’s not quite an adult yet the chrysalis is still considered one of the juvenile stages. So far, we’ve had three juvenile stages an egg a caterpillar and a chrysalis.
Now the chrysalis form is very dangerous. Because they can’t change their location as a chrysalis. And many butterflies overwinter as a chrysalis. Predators like birds and other animals would love to eat a butterfly chrysalis. So, a little bit dangerous in this stage. Every species of the butterfly makes its unique type of chrysalis. People who are butterfly experts can identify what kind of butterfly is going to come out of it because the crystal ids are all unique.
Eventually, an adult butterfly comes out of the chrysalis. We know they’re adults when they have wings. All butterflies have four wings. They have two on the top and two on the bottom.
Small butterflies are just genetically small butterflies. Think of them like chihuahuas. But there are large butterflies and there are medium butterflies. The size of the butterfly has more to do with the species than anything else though. If they didn’t have enough nutrition when they were a caterpillar, they might form a little bit smaller than normal. But generally speaking, size is determined by species.
They don’t grow any more once they’re adults with wings. The wings they come out of the chrysalis with are the wings they’re going to have for their whole life. And they’re not a baby anymore. Once they have wings, they’re a full-blown adult. And that means they are now either male or female. When they were caterpillars, they had internally programmed male or female genes. But those didn’t manifest until they get to the adult stage. Now that it’s an adult butterfly if it’s a female she’s got to find a male and she’s got to start laying her eggs on her one and only host plants.
Some very common questions that do make sense
You are now part of the butterfly initiated in this segment. Here I will discuss some very common questions that do make sense. I want to clarify some things that we should not do in our butterfly garden.
The first thing is the fruit plate. Remember I mentioned that butterflies don’t only drink from flowers. They drink from other things too. Including rotten fruit. Many butterflies drink from rotten fruit and this is a true statement.
When you go to butterfly houses those places like I where I used to work where there are a big enclosure and all these butterflies inside and they have fruit plates with rotting fruit. Those are usually catering to very specific butterflies that are from the rainforests where rotten fruit is one of the staples of their diet.
If you live in the rainforest that would make a little bit more sense. But for most of us in the united states, it doesn’t make much sense to put a fruit plate out. Now I’m not saying that you won’t get results. You might get results if you put some rotten fruit out. Because certain types of butterflies by no means all of them but certain species do prefer rotting fruit.
But the thing is rotting fruit will attract all sorts of other pests that you might not want in your gardens like rats and raccoons and possums and if you don’t mind that. And if you don’t mind replenishing the rotting fruit regularly. You know every few days or so that’s fine.
When I worked at the butterfly house, we replenish it every morning which just means that’s a lot of work and it’s not very sustainable. But it’s not going to be something that every butterfly in your yard drinks from. Because of not every kind of butterfly, drinks from fruit. So, spare yourself the hassle unless you want to make this a full-time job.
Another thing I see is butterfly feeders. Now, this, of course, is a hummingbird feeder. And if you have hummingbird feeders and you’ve got a very active butterfly garden. You might actually see butterflies on it from time to time. Butterflies are insects and they don’t understand what butterfly feeders are. They don’t think as we do. They’re not attracted to red, the way hummingbirds are. That’s not really something they recognize as a food source.
Do you know what they recognize as food sources? Hopefully, you do. It’s flowers like we discussed before. Flowers are natural butterfly feeders and you are far better off just keeping a variety of flowers in bloom colors and heights of different kinds of flowers. That’s the best way to feed your butterflies.
I mentioned before that we don’t use insecticides in a butterfly garden and I also mentioned that ladybugs love to eat aphids. And because of that some people then order ladybugs online to bring into their garden to try to help with pest control. But you know what happens when you order ladybugs into your garden and take off the lid. They all fly away.
I know people will try to sell these to you and tell you that they will not fly away but that’s not true. They will. Ladybugs will naturally come to your garden and eat the pests. You do not have to order them online. We don’t have to jumpstart nature. All we have to do is give nature what it’s already been using for millions of years. You don’t need to order your butterflies online. Now you can order butterflies. I’m not against ordering butterflies.
If you’re doing it for educational purposes that’s fine. But if you’re just trying to stock your butterfly garden it’s probably not going to be very effective. Because you can order them in and you can raise them. But when you go outside and set them free, they’re just going to fly away. You can’t really stock your butterfly garden.
We know this because universities and experts who study bugs have been trying to repopulate certain areas with butterflies that have gotten endangered in those areas and in most cases even those don’t take. So, if the experts are having a hard time repopulating areas. where these butterflies are native to and they’re doing it all in the lab and with high science and research I doubt you’re going to be able to populate your little garden. Save your money and buy more host plants that would be more effective.
People love butterfly houses. They’re very cute. They’re cute if you like garden art. But they are not something that butterflies will use. Butterflies have no idea what this is. They don’t know what you want them to crawl in it and make a home out of it. They’re just insects.
Butterfly houses get filled with other things that you might not want like wasps. So, the concept behind this is people know that butterflies, kind of hideout for the winter. Remember I discuss during the winter they may become inactive and they hide out and in trees or in log piles or in rotting logs.
So, people think oh great well that makes them a little house. Which is fine but they’re not going to understand that. If you want it for the garden aren’t great. Have at it but don’t expect butterflies to be wintering in your butterfly houses. That’s a gimmick. They do not understand that and it’s just not going to happen.
Garden design: things to consider making a butterfly garden
A few more things for you to consider as you play in your habitat. The first thing is the seasons.
Different butterflies fly at different times of the year. And depending on where you are and where your butterfly habitat is that will directly affect the activity that goes on in your garden. So, if you are somewhere where there is winter, there will be a dormant season to your butterfly garden. And that’s contrasted to if you live in a tropical place or a warm place closer to the equator where butterfly gardening can actually go on 12 months of the year.
If you’re baking a butterfly garden on a patio or on a balcony it’s perfectly fine to have it all in containers. Sometimes containers are also useful if you don’t have enough space in your garden. For instance, in my garden in South Florida.
Some of the species of butterflies that I attract lay their eggs on trees. And I don’t have a big space. I have a small urban plot of land. And some of these trees get to 80 feet tall and I don’t have room for that. So, when it comes to those trees, I keep them in containers.
That does require a little bit more water just to keep them hydrated. But it’s better for me than putting those trees in the ground and having something unruly that I can’t deal with. So, there are different reasons that you could use can all containers or a combination of containers or plants in the ground. But that’s perfectly fine as long as the plants are happy.
Hosts and nectar:
You’re in a really limited space about guinea, for instance, let’s say you’re going to do this on a balcony of a high-rise condo. You don’t have a lot of room. You might just want to put a few host plants. Just for one or two kinds of butterflies and maybe one nectar source. You might not have the luxury of planting dozens of plants.
I’ve noticed that if you’re a butterfly gardening in a rural area. It can be a little bit more difficult to get butterflies to lay their eggs in your garden. And that’s because they are laying their eggs out in the wild. There’s so much wild native forest or space around them that your little plot of land isn’t attracting them.
Oftentimes in urban areas, there aren’t a lot of natural areas. Butterflies are sort of desperate to lay their eggs. And that’s why I get results very quickly in my urban area. Because these butterflies are so desperate for the plants. People don’t plant those plants. Generally, a lot of times host plants are obscure or things that gardeners don’t know about. So, when I put those in my garden, I get results quickly.
There are always limitations and people want to know about raising butterflies in screened-in enclosures or land eyes. My suggestion is to not do that. There are a lot, more complicated things that go on. If you’re going to try to raise butterflies in a lanai you need to make sure you have genetic diversity. If you’re starting as a beginner don’t worry about trying to trap the butterflies. Just do this naturally. Because this is the way that it’s been going on for millions of years. And your best bet is to just go along with nature instead of fighting it.
Download the habitat design worksheet from the link below.
Some challenges that you are definitely going to face
I went to go over some challenges that you are definitely going to face. The first thing is getting plants.
The problem is that a lot of host plants are not plants that common nurseries carry. You’re better off trying to find a specialty nursery in your area, not a big box store. But a local nursery that you can talk to the people and ask them what plants usually have caterpillars on them.
No plants left in your garden:
Another challenge is no plants left. This is especially true if you have host plants with lots of caterpillars on them. They’re going to eat your plants down to nothing. This happens a lot with the monarch. And what that means is you’re not going to have any food left for your caterpillars and you’re going to start freaking out and you’re going think oh my gosh they’ve eaten all my plants. Should I go to the store and buy another milkweed. And my answer to you is to do what you want.
You can keep buying more plants if you’d like. Or you can just resign to this is what happens in nature and case or Astra. That’s what I do in my yard if they run out of food. Some species will almost always eat more plants than you can provide them. It can be difficult to provide them with enough leaves. So, don’t feel bad when they’ve eaten your plants down and you have no plants left.
Pesticide treated plants:
It happens with pesticide-treated plants. What I mean by that is you might buy a plant at a store or a nursery and they have put in systemic insecticides. Which means the plant already has insecticides in it. And the reason they do that at the nursery is that they are trying to keep pests off of the plant’s pests being caterpillars. So now when you bring it home if your caterpillars eat that plant they will die. And it happens a lot with milkweed. And some of the big box stores sell milkweed for monarchs with those toxins in it.
So, my best suggestion for that if you have a plant that is seemingly killing your caterpillars take to heart those pesticides those insecticides in time will get out of the system of the plant. It just takes time. It could take several months. It depends on a bunch of factors. But the plant itself isn’t garbage. Just give it time to rejuvenate healthy cells that don’t have the toxins in it. Another thing is you can just ask stores. If you go to a local mom pop nursery, they might tell you whether or not they’ve treated the plants.
Pest since we don’t use insecticides. We are inevitably at some point going to get plant pests and that’s just part of it.
Now what I mean by this is sometimes neighborhoods like where I live. They have trucks that go down the street and spray for mosquitoes or planes that go overhead and drop insecticides. And those insecticides are indiscriminate. They will kill any insect they come in contact with. That can be very frustrating when you’re a butterfly, Gardner. Because they’re killing your butterflies. You can write to your local city governments. You can try to take action that way. Eventually, those insecticides will work their way out of the system.
You are going to see dead caterpillars and dead butterflies. If you have a butterfly garden. Homeowners associations and well-meaning neighbors might not like the looks of your butterfly garden. And your plants might get eaten you might have weeds. You’re going to have maybe a little bit wild looking. As I mentioned before it might be helpful to put up a sign. To help educate them about what’s going on. When they understand what’s going on. They might understand you a little bit better and allow it. Or maybe become active in your age away or in your community and explain to them what’s going on. There is a real shift towards being green and towards conservation right now. So, it might be helpful for you to just voice your opinions and tell people why you are doing what you are doing to conserve butterflies.