HOME: Create a butterfly haven in your yard
The cooler nights and frost that will soon begin to creep into the late nights and early days signals the end of the butterfly season. Though butterflies won’t reappear until spring, fall is a great time to plant butterfly-friendly plants and install items that will attract a variety of butterflies.
Steve LaWarre, the director of horticulture at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, said there are several dozens of native butterflies in Michigan, mainly the Monarch, Red Admiral and Swallowtail. One of the rarest in Michigan, the Karner Blue, is on the endangered species list and usually is found deep in forests, where they feed on wild lupin plants.
In order to attract a variety of butterflies to your yard and to keep them around longer, LaWarre offers these tips:
Provide a good water source.Installing bird baths and adding stones to them provides a way for butterflies to land on a surface and drink, LaWarre said. “Butterflies don’t drink from open water,” he said. “They use their tube-like proboscis (tongue) to drink from standing on a rock. The rocks provide pockets of water that they are attracted to.” The same concept goes for ponds.
Don’t use insecticides in your yard. Granted, insecticides keep pestering insects away, it also kills away butterflies. Thus, if you want to attract butterflies, you’ll have to find other means to rid of other pesky insects, LaWaffe said. “It’s a bit of a trade-off,” he said.
Create a “loving” environment. Many milkweed plants are excellent “host plants” where butterflies can reproduce, which also provide a food source for their pupae, caterpillars. “Ornamental milkweed plants work, too,” LaWaffe said. “Plants along the carrot family, like dill and fennel, are an attractive place for Swallowtails to lay their eggs, too.” Tall grass and tree branches are other popular spots butterflies roost, keeping themselves out of the wind.
Include bright, flowery perennials in your yard. Plants that can be planted now, which will grow in time for the butterflies’ springtime return are the popular “butterfly bush,” trumpet vines and Monarda plants, according to Tom Pentoney of Wayside Gardens in Greenville. LaWarre said butterflies love plants with small tubular flowers where they can suck the nectar from the bottom of the flower with their tongues. “They probe down the flower to feed with their proboscis, which actually rolls up in their mouths,” he said. “Butterflies are attracted by ultraviolet light so they like strong colorful flowers.”
Laurie Shaffer of Sheridan said she planted a butterfly bush in her yard five years ago and, since moving it to a better location in her yard, it has grown each year.
“I love that the butterflies flock to it and I have seen many hummingbirds buzzing around it, too,” Shaffer said. “The best part? It smells awesome. There are times I can smell it from all the way across the lawn.”
LaWaffe said the Frederik Meijers Gardens and Sculpture Park’s Butterflies Are Blooming conservatory is a great place to observe butterflies in their own habitat. Though his butterflies are exotic (numbering more than 600 and including 40 different species), it is a wonderful way for those wanting to attract native butterflies to their yard to see how butterflies behave.
“They can see the environmental setting and watch how they behave,” LaWaffe said.
The butterfly conservatory reopens in March.
Photographs by Laurie Shaffer of Sheridan.