Last time we talked about how to decide what you might want to have in your butterfly garden. Today we’ll talk about how to design it – what to include, how to make your garden safe for butterflies and caterpillars, and some other things.
First, if you want to take a shortcut, the city has a number of designs already made that you can use in your yard, for free. Even if you don’t want to use them, they may give you some ideas. Look here. https://novi.org/News/Learn-how-to-create-your-own-Butterfly-Garden.aspx
Plants native to Michigan are the best hosts for butterflies, as they have co-evolved over thousands of years, in many cases, and using native plants has other ecological benefits. But, some caterpillars and moths also do well with some non-native plants (Black swallowtails love dill and fennel, for example). And, some herbs and common annuals are good sources of nectar for many different butterflies.
One design is composed almost entirely of herbs that you could use in your salads or other cooking. When creating your own design, include these elements:
• At least 5-7 plants of a single host species for the butterfly you want to raise from its egg. More is better, but you want to have a cluster of them large enough to attract the interest of a butterfly to put its eggs on the plant. If you want to use more host plants of a species, I recommend creating separate clusters rather than just one large one, so a predator (spider or other creatures) have a hard time finding all of them.
• Nectar plants with different blooming periods. You want to have sources of nectar through the entire growing season. This will also give your garden color and keep it buzzing throughout the spring, summer and fall.
• A pathway through it, especially if it’s larger, so you can have access to the plants to get a better look at the caterpillars and flowers. It will also help with weeding, so you don’t have to tromp over the plants to keep the garden relatively clear of weeds.
• Some clear dirt, so the butterflies and moths can lick the dirt, especially if its mud, to get minerals that they need for survival. For starters, don’t make your garden too large – perhaps 10 feet wide by 10 feet long, or some similar area.
This will make your garden manageable to start and not create too much work for you to keep it looking nice. You can always expand your garden from year to year. And, you can encourage your neighbors to create butterfly gardens in their yards to make your entire neighborhood attractive to butterflies. If twenty people put in gardens of 400sf (20 feet by 20 feet), that will be a total of almost 1/5 of an acre, and will support a lot of butterflies, some you don’t even plan on.
Finally, refrain from using pesticides near your garden. The same chemicals that kill grubs or other creatures will also kill the caterpillars and butterflies you’re trying to attract. If you have to use chemicals in your yard, put your butterfly garden in a spot where you don’t have to spray. Or, even better, use environmentally-friendly methods of pest control. We’ll talk about that in a future article. By doing all of these things, you’ll add color and excitement to your yard that lawn just can’t bring.
Herb Butterfly Garden