If you are contemplating the construction of a butterfly garden, take a few moments to assess your resources. How much time are you willing (and able) to invest in planting and maintaining your garden? How much money do you want to spend? Is the garden intended to be a formal or informal one? Are you going to provide butterfly nectar plants, caterpillar food plants, or both? How are you going to deal with pest problems without pesticides? Are you willing to discourage insect-feeding birds (no nest boxes or berry bushes)? The answers to these questions will help you determine the size and scope of your butterfly garden.
Another step should be to find out which butterflies are in your area. You can do this by spending some time outdoors with your field guide and a pair of binoculars to see which species are around you. Plan to spend around 4-5 hours between mid-morning and early afternoon trying to spot butterflies over a three day period. If you’re serious about this, it’ll be well worth it!
Check the Internet as well to find out which butterflies are naturally abundant in your area. We’ll have a whole separate section on plants that attract butterflies.
Most butterflies prefer some shelter from high winds. At the same time, they like open, sunny areas. Windbreak plantings or other means of sheltering the butterfly garden can help provide a suitable physical environment.
Certain kinds of butterflies (mostly males) often can be seen on moist sand or mud collecting around puddles of water where they feed. The function of these “mud-puddle clubs” is not fully understood, but it is thought that the water contains dissolved minerals needed by the insects. Maintaining a damp, slightly salty area in the yard may attract groups of these butterflies.
When planning a garden, create a large patch of a flower species to attract and retain butterflies. Consider flowers that bloom in sequence. This is particularly important during summer when flower visiting by butterflies is most frequent. Map your yard and choose the spot that receive the least amount of wind and maximum sunshine. You’ll also want to take into consideration the growing requirements of the plants you will be putting in along with their growing needs.
Plant your butterfly garden in a sunny location (5-6 hours each day), but sheltered from the winds. Butterflies need the sun to warm themselves, but they won’t want to feed in an area where they are constantly fighting the wind to stay on the plants. Afternoon sun will not only bring in lots of butterflies, but will provide glorious light for viewing and photographing them. It’s a plus if you can watch from your kitchen or living room window.