A favorite thing about visiting gardens in the summer is catching sight of a butterfly enjoying nectar from a brightly colored zinnia or a monarch caterpillar munching on a milkweed leaf. When designing a butterfly garden, expand and balance plant selection to provide more than nectar plants for adult butterflies.
As the growing season winds down, pollinators are busy feeding and laying eggs in preparation for winter. Most butterflies overwinter locally, but several generations of monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles to Mexico for the winter and need fuel for the journey.
A nectar plant has flowers that create a carbohydrate-rich food source for pollinators in exchange for pollination services by adult butterflies. A larval host plant allows caterpillars, or larvae, to feed on this plant. Because of the integral relationship between host plants and butterflies, gardeners must be strategic when picking a caterpillar host plant to attract a particular butterfly species.
It is helpful to remember that a female butterfly can travel long distances, but their caterpillars cannot. This balance tip lets you observe a garden where butterflies can feed, lay their eggs, and provide food for their newly hatched larvae, that then pupate and create their cocoons, emerge, and begin a lifecycle or migrate to a new region.
Planting important pollinator larva and nectar plants creates a fun and colorful buffet for your butterfly garden. With good selections, hungry caterpillars will eventually devour parts of these plants, but no worries, the larva host plants will grow back.
Consider these selections to add and balance a butterfly garden:
Article by Christina Lueking for extension.illinois.edu/