Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden
When wanting to attract butterflies to your garden you should think of it as shopping for real estate. It's about what you want and location, location, location. Butterflies cannot regulate their body temperature, so they need to rely on the sun. This is why you see butterflies moving their wings while resting on plants. They are attempting to get just the right amount of heat.
Butterflies and moths are also host specific insects. Many gardeners can tell what caterpillar is doing the damage by the plant that is being eaten. One should also remember to have a lot of butterflies of a specific type; you might need to plant a variety of plants in the same family, such as milkweeds. Butterflies like certain plants to change from the caterpillar stage to the butterfly stage. Plants for the caterpillar stage of a butterfly's development are usually kept in less conspicuous locations, so the garden looks neat. When considering host plants or those plants that caterpillars prefer some examples are: milkweed for monarch butterflies, passion vines for fritillaries, hackberry for Hackberry Emperor Butterflies, and there are others.
When setting up the butterfly garden, it is more effective to spread islands of color or clusters of nectar plants throughout the garden will usually be more effective than one large patch of pollinating plants. Butterflies are pollinators, meaning that they are one of the animals that assist in plant reproduction by carrying pollen from plant to plant. Most butterfly plants will be colorful, to attract the butterfly, and oriented upward making a platform for the butterfly to land and walk on. The best of these generally have big 'heads' of flowers, so that the butterfly may spend several minutes visiting from flower to flower without flying around. Some good nectar plants for butterflies include: Purple Coneflower, mistflowers, Gayfeather, Texas Kidneywood, horsemint, phlox, lantana's, and Turk's Cap to name
a few. Butterflies do need water but will not use your common bird baths. You can use a simple platter that will allow just a small amount of water to collect inside of it and allow the small butterfly to get its fill. Also allowingsmall puddling areas in your landscape will also work.
While many stores carry hummingbird and butterfly feeders, these should only be used as supplemental feeding areas in your garden. Feeders should be cleaned and sugar water solution should be changed once a week. To make your own nectar solution at home, you just need to mix ¼ cup of sugar into one cup of water. Mix well and refrigerate any unused portion for up to one week. It is not necessary to add red food coloring to the solution.
When all items of the habitat are included in your landscape, from host plant to nectar plants, it is just a matter of time before you will be enjoying the great outdoors that much more.
If you would like to contact your local biologist, see our website at; http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/ wildlifebiologist.