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February 24, 2006
posted online February 26, 2006

Plan now for a butterfly garden

By Susan Grupp, Univ. of IL Extension

Butterfly With careful planning, home gardeners can create an inviting habitat which will allow butterflies to flourish, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"You should start planning now for a butterfly garden," said Susan Grupp. "Whether you add some favorite butterfly plants to an existing garden or start with a new garden designed just for butterflies, you will be amazed how easy it is to attract them to your yard."

The first thing to do is select a warm, sunny spot for the butterfly garden.

"Butterflies are cold-blooded and need sunshine to warm their bodies," she explained. "Locate your garden near a wall, a fence, or even some evergreens so when they come to visit, they are not fighting a strong or chilling wind. This will help them to conserve energy.

"A sheltered garden will protect flowers from being tossed and blown, too."

Butterflies need body temperatures of 85 to100 degrees F to fly well. When temperatures are cooler, they warm up by basking in the sun.

"Have you ever seen a butterfly perched on the ground, very still, with its wings opened wide?" asked Grupp. "This allows their dark bodies to absorb the heat. Other butterflies, such as sulfurs, close their wings and turn sideways so their darker wing base absorbs the heat. Some species reflect heat from their wings to their bodies."

In order to help butterflies stay warm, Grupp suggested including a resting spot that heats up, such as dark-colored rocks or boulders. They should be placed where sunlight heats them up early in the morning and/or late afternoon.

"When butterflies can keep warm and fly longer, they can feed more, search longer for mates, and potentially lay more eggs. All of this can lead to more butterflies," said Grupp.

Butterflies are very vulnerable to pesticides. If you want to attract butterflies, never use pesticides. The bacterial insecticide, Bacillus thuringiensis "kurstaki" (Btk) kills moth and butterfly larvae, so it should not be used.

Four distinct life cycle stages--egg, larvae, pupae, and adult--govern a butterfly's life.

"Decide if you want to attract the adults or the larva--caterpillars--or both," said Grupp. "Adults feed primarily on the nectar of a wide variety of flowers. Larva feed on leaves--and some flowers and seed--of a more limited range of plants.

"To attract as many adults as possible, plant large groups of flowers. Include plants that bloom throughout the growing season so butterflies have a choice from spring to fall. Also masses of flowers tend to attract more visitors than small plantings."

Adults visit many kinds of flowers, but some flowers seem to be "butterfly magnets."

"In my yard, Butterfly bush, Purple coneflower, Joe-Pye weed, Black-eyed Susan, Lantana, Brazilian verbena, and Sedum 'Autumn Joy' are literally covered with butterflies on a sunny day," said Grupp.

"For caterpillars--the larva stage, you will need to choose plants which attract the adult for egg laying. Adults are very choosy and specific. Don't forget, caterpillars will be chewing on foliage, so remember to plant enough for you and the caterpillars."


Source: Susan Grupp (630) 653-4114
Contact: Bob Sampson
Extension Communications Specialist
Phone (217) 244-0225;

On the web:

How to make butterfly gardens

This spring, plant a butterfly garden

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