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How to Attract Butterflies To Your Garden

Turn Your Yard into a Butterfly Haven

Picture it: It’s a summer afternoon, you open the screen door, step into your backyard and find a dozen butterflies lolling about. You take a seat and watch the show of colorful wings and graceful flights and butterflies move from one spot in the garden to the next. Sounds like a dream, right? But getting butterflies to visit your garden, let alone spend an entire afternoon, requires some planning on your part.

In honor of our new butterfly bedding and outdoor pillows featuring magnified butterfly wings, we spoke with Fred Gagnon, the curator at Magic Wings, a butterfly conservatory and garden in South Deerfield, Massachusetts about how to attract these colorful creatures to your yard.

Fascinated by butterflies all of his life, Fred has spent more than two decades designing and maintaining the conservatory and creating butterfly gardens in New England. The conservatory only has exotic and tropical butterflies that are not native to the Northeast, but that’s by design: They don’t want to have any butterflies escape and become a pest!

To draw native butterflies to your garden, you’ll need host plants (like milkweed) to feed caterpillars, nectar flowers to feed mature butterflies, and plants that provide places for butterflies to lay their eggs and form their chrysalis. It won’t always be possible to provide it all, for example, tiger swallowtail’s host plants are willow, cherry, poplar, and ash trees--not something you can easily add to your garden, but there are many things you can do to up your chances of spotting a swallowtail or a painted lady. Here’s how to attract butterflies in New England or a similar climate:

Let your clover grow.

If you have patches of wild clover, postpone mowing them. You may catch
sight of early, spring-flying butterflies who like the flowers. Lilac is
another spring flower that attracts butterflies (and can you blame
them for loving that heady scent?).

If you have patches of wild clover, postpone mowing them. You may catch sight of early, spring-flying butterflies who like the flowers. Lilac is another spring flower that attracts butterflies (and can you blame them for loving that heady scent?).

Don’t use pesticides.

This should be common sense, but gardeners at war with pests are apt to forget that butterflies are insects too. The same products that you use to rid your beds of detrimental insects will poison butterflies.

Plant these four things to hedge your bets.

Fred Gagnon and the team at Magic Wings recommends the following plants guarantee butterflies in your yard all summer long:

Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)

The best plant if you want to attract a crowd of winged friends. Gagnon says the plant has gotten a bad rap for being “invasive,” but he says that’s only the case in warmer, southern climates. In most of the country, including the northeast where Magic Wings is located, it is not an invasive species.

Verbena Bonariensis

When in bloom, this plant will be covered with butterflies. It’s a semi-hardy plant that can survive mild winters, but it can also reseed itself if a harsh winter kills it off.

Milkweed

The host plant for monarch butterfly’s larva, milkweed’s rich nectar is also an incredibly valuable food source to adult butterflies. Native (aka common) milkweed has a short blooming season, so consider tropical milkweeds, which will bloom all summer until the first frost.

Clustered-flower plants

Butterflies like flowering plants whose blossoms are arranged in clusters like phlox, monarda, echinacea, lantana, heliotrope, asters, viburnum, and other types of verbena.

Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)

The best plant if you want to attract a crowd of winged friends. Gagnon says the plant has gotten a bad rap for being “invasive,” but he says that’s only the case in warmer, southern climates. In most of the country, including the northeast where Magic Wings is located, it is not an invasive species.

Verbena Bonariensis

When in bloom, this plant will be covered with butterflies. It’s a semi-hardy plant that can survive mild winters, but it can also reseed itself if a harsh winter kills it off.

Milkweed

The host plant for monarch butterfly’s larva, milkweed’s rich nectar is also an incredibly valuable food source to adult butterflies. Native (aka common) milkweed has a short blooming season, so consider tropical milkweeds, which will bloom all summer until the first frost.

Clustered-flower plants

Butterflies like flowering plants whose blossoms are arranged in clusters like phlox, monarda, echinacea, lantana, heliotrope, asters, viburnum, and other types of verbena.

Spread out your plantings

Planting just one of the butterfly-attracting plants listed above will only get you so far. If you want fluttery insects to stick around, you need to plant multiple clusters of their favorite foods, so they can go from one corner of the yard to another. Also, know that butterflies tend to prefer sunny areas.

Share your herb and vegetable garden.

Parsley and dill are among the host plants for Black Swallowtails (they also like lovely Queen Anne’s Lace). Cabbage Whites (often mistaken for moths) are drawn to plants in the mustard and cabbage families. The little holes they’ll eat in your broccoli leaves are perhaps worth the daily site of the delicate white wings.

Share your herb and vegetable garden.

Parsley and dill are among the host plants for Black Swallowtails (they also like lovely Queen Anne’s Lace). Cabbage Whites (often mistaken for moths) are drawn to plants in the mustard and cabbage families. The little holes they’ll eat in your broccoli leaves are perhaps worth the daily site of the delicate white wings.

Extend the season

Summer is peak butterfly flying time, but you can keep them visiting your garden by including plants that offer them food in autumn. Butterfly bush and verbena bonariensis continue to feed butterflies into fall, but you can also add Sweet Joe Pye, fall asters, and sedum Autumn Joy.

Add the beauty of butterflies to your home

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