February 24, 2006
posted online February 26, 2006
Plan now for a butterfly
By Susan Grupp, Univ. of IL Extension
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
"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
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
"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
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
Source: Susan Grupp (630) 653-4114
Contact: Bob Sampson
Extension Communications Specialist
Phone (217) 244-0225; firstname.lastname@example.org
On the web:
How to make butterfly gardens
This spring, plant a butterfly garden