Butterflies Are Free, So How Can You Attract Them?

— Written By Bill Hanlin and last updated by JoAnne Gryder

butterfliesThis year, we are seeing an abundance of butterflies in the area. These colorful insects make a beautiful addition to the landscape which is why many gardeners attempt to attract them by adding certain plants to the yard. Here are some recommendations from the experts to help attract butterflies to your landscape.

First and foremost, have nice showy flowers that are a good nectar source. Butterflies are attracted to red, orange, yellow, pink and purple flowers in particular, however the white flowering butterfly bush in my yard also has plenty of butterflies. These flowers should also have short flower tubes so the butterfly can feed on the nectar. You will also want to have different plants blooming throughout the season so butterflies can have a continuous supply of nectar.

Plants used to attract butterflies should be placed in full sun. Most butterflies feed only in full sun and concentrate their feeding from mid morning until mid afternoon. Butterflies will also use the sun to warm themselves on cool mornings

Another way to attract butterflies is to have something for their caterpillar young to feed on. Many butterfly species are very picky about where they lay their eggs. Monarch butterflies prefer to lay their eggs on milkweed, while the very abundant eastern tiger swallowtails like to lay their eggs on wild black cherries, ash, and tulip trees. Of course, you are going to have to tolerate feeding damage caused by the caterpillars.

The web has a wealth of information on which plants are hosts for both adult and caterpillar butterfly species. The NC State horticultural department has a list of plants at https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/butterflies.

Lastly, never use insecticides on, or around, plants used for attracting butterflies. Butterflies, and their young, are susceptible to a wide variety of insecticides. Even the relatively mild insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis, which is used by many vegetable gardeners, is lethal to caterpillars.