Welcoming Butterflies to the Garden

When I became a certified Green Spring Master Gardener eight years ago, I learned many things about horticulture and eco-savvy gardening. The personal revelations were eye-opening. The first was that I didn’t know as much about gardening as I thought, and the second was that if I wanted to attract and keep butterflies in my garden, I had to change my plantings.

a yellow butterfly getting nectar from a tiny pink flower

I always had butterflies in my garden, but they never stayed long enough to make my garden their home. They liked the flowering plants, but my garden wasn’t their sanctuary. I set out to change this. My goal was to attract a variety of butterflies while providing a place where they could grow and multiply. Most flowering plants will attract them but not keep them around. All flowers are not equal in their compound eyes. Butterflies want plants that produce nectar to feed on, but also plants that will allow them to lay eggs and feed caterpillars.

Alonso Abugatto, co-founder of the Washington Area Butterfly Club, says that the butterflies’ favorite flower colors include purple, yellow, white and blue. Red is not usually visible to many species of butterflies. They also prefer fragrant flowers. Their favorite is milkweed of all types. Milkweed is the only host plant for the monarch larvae. Butterflies also like native violets, asters and the native wisteria vine. Some non-native plants can have value, such as Queen Anne’s lace, parsley and dill, to name a few.

a yellow butterfly resting on a green leafy plant with tiny pink, purple, and white flowers

I plan my perennial planting and annual selections by observing what works in my garden. I choose plants that do double duty by providing both nectar and caterpillar food. It’s important to remember that different species of butterflies rely on different host plants to lay their eggs and they have their preferences for nectar sources. I recommend that you focus on a few butterfly species you especially want to attract and select host and nectar plants accordingly.

two yellow butterflies resting on a pink flowering plant

The wider range of nectar plants I plant, the more species I attract. I like structured gardens but butterflies like gardens that imitate the way plants grow in the wild and provide shelter. They also want sun, water and puddling stations. The Virginia Cooperative Extension office has a free and informative publication on creating inviting habitats for pollinators.

The North American Butterfly Association (NABA) also has a great deal of useful information. It’s a paid membership organization that promotes awareness of butterfly conservation and the benefits of butterfly gardening. They also offer a “Butterfly Garden Certification Program.” I proudly hang my certificate outside my garden gate, and it draws people of all ages inside to visit and talk about butterflies.

If you want to see butterflies in a habitat they love, visit Green Spring Gardens at 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, Virginia. Pollinators of all kinds and people alike find their happy place at Green Spring Gardens.

To learn more about the Green Spring Extension Master Gardener Program, visit Green Spring Extension Master Gardeners.

Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Green Spring Extension Master Gardener and Friends of Green Spring (FROGS) Board member.

This entry was posted in Resource Management and tagged , , , , , , , , , , on by .

About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s