If you are now ready to plan the butterfly garden, read these steps to take. Our next tip will cover common conflicts found when planning a butterfly garden and some additional references.
Make a yard more attractive to butterflies by providing the proper environment, which can be food plants used by the immature stages (various caterpillars), food sources used by the adult butterflies, and physical environment.
Most butterflies prefer some shelter from the high winds common along the Front Range. 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.
Adult female butterflies spend time searching for food plants required by the immature caterpillar stage. Most butterflies have specific host plants on which they develop. For example, caterpillars of the monarch butterfly develop only on milkweed, while the black swallowtail feeds only on parsley, dill and closely related plants. When females find the proper host plant, they may lay eggs on it.
Providing the necessary food plants for the developing caterpillars also allows production of a "native" population that can be observed in all stages of development. Most species, however, fly away as adult butterflies.
Food for adult butterflies usually consists of sweet liquids, such as nectar from flowers, that provide energy. Some flowers contain more nectar, and are more attractive to butterflies. Often, specific types of flowers and flower colors also are more attractive. Some species feed on honeydew (produced by aphids), plant sap, rotting fruit, and even bird dung.
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. Flowers and flowering shrubs that might be good choices for an Eastern Colorado butterfly garden are included in Table 1.
Table 1: Some nectar-bearing plants commonly visited by butterflies.
Asters (Aster spp.)
Bee balm (Monarda)
Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)
Butterfly plant (Asclepias tuberosa)
Bush cinquefolia (Potentilla fruticosa)
Cosmos (Cosmos spp.)
Gaillardia (Gaillardia spp.)
Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
Marigold (Tagetes spp.)
Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus)
Sunflower (Helianthus spp.)
Sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus)
Verbena (Verbena spp.)
Zinnias (Zinnia spp.)