It’s the last weekend of winter (can you believe it!), so from now we can expect the days to get longer and warmer, and the growth in our gardens to start flourishing again.
With a little planning now, we can add to the glorious display in our spring and summer gardens or balconies, by growing plants that will attract butterflies.
Butterflies like a variety of plants, so creating a garden for them can add biological diversity—and beauty—to your yard. Even better, that diversity is likely to reduce populations of pest insects by making it harder for them to find their specific host plants.
As a rule, the winged beauties need two types of plants to survive: flowering plants that produce nectar to nourish them and food plants on which the female can lay her eggs.
What plants should you grow in a butterfly garden? Pretty much anything that flowers, but don’t just restrict it to ‘instant colour’ pots. The butterflies in your area will have adapted to local native plants, and that’s good news, because plants that are already well-suited to grow in a particular location and climate require less maintenance, water and fertiliser.
Landscape the bed by starting with taller plants towards the back and sides. Shrubs and trees such as Wattles (Acacia), Grevilleas, Callistemon, or Bush Peas are robust and will provide shelter for eggs and food for caterpillars.
Next, sow masses of plants together, so they create swathes of colour, such as red, yellow and blues (butterflies’ favourite colours). Generally, flowers with simple, flat petals are easiest for butterflies to alight on and extract nectar, such as daisies, pelargoniums, bluebells, amaranth, or osteospermum.
Don’t love mowing the lawn every second week in summer? Consider giving over some of that lawn area for a wild-growing butterfly garden. You’ll not only reduce mowing time and the need for watering, but will gain a glorious vista of flowers and butterflies.
When choosing the right place for your butterfly garden, remember that butterflies are delicate creatures; they love the sun, but not the wind. Find a spot that is sheltered from the winds but gets sun all year round – preferably facing north or west.
Importantly, avoid using chemicals in the garden. There will inevitably be some caterpillars, but if you give them plenty to eat in their patch, you will barely notice a few holes in leaves.
Once your garden is established, all you have to do is sit back, enjoy the spectacle and let the butterflies do their work. Get the kids involved by having them record all the different species and colours, including when they are around and what plants they prefer. If you’re keen to know more, or find out what they are, download the app from the Butterflies Australia website.