Ok, y’all, spring is RIGHT around the corner! Who is as excited as I am? Spring is by far my favorite season; I love the weather warming up and nature starting to emerge from its hibernation. My girls love it too because they love playing outside and helping out in the garden. Last year I made it a point to improve selections in our garden to attract more pollinators, like butterflies. In a year where many things were negative, having a butterfly garden and seeing these little creatures visit our flowers every day was a joyful highlight for me and my kids.
Is this something you might be interested in? Then read below for some tips on how to get started! Homeschool science credit, anyone?
Picking Your Butterfly Garden Site
Wherever you want to create a butterfly garden, you need to consider the space you have. The vast majority of the plants that attract butterflies require 6-8 hours of sun, but you may also want a few shady spots for the butterflies themselves to rest. You can utilize an existing landscaping bed, or you can create a new one like I did.
Your winged friends will also appreciate a water source and some flat areas to rest. Butterflies prefer to drink from water mixed with sand or pebbles in little shallow pools. You can get a pretty staked feeder or create your own with a small plate and some stones.
Picking Your Plants and Flowers
If I can give you one tip only, it would be to include NATIVE species. Not only will this attract your local butterflies, but it will also ensure picking plants that can withstand our hot and dry south Texas summers. Butterflies are attracted to the colors of red, orange, yellow, pink and purple, so consider that when planting. You also want to make sure you include both NECTAR plants for the adults to enjoy and HOST plants for the butterflies to lay eggs and feed their young. And never, ever use any herbicides or pesticides in your butterfly garden. For almost any problem, there are natural, clean remedies to get rid of unwanted pests. For example, got aphids on your milkweed? Release some ladybugs to eat them up or spray them with a mixture of dish soap and water.
Here is a list of some great choices for your butterfly garden that will do well here in the greater Houston area. Some overlap to be both nectar and host plants. Be sure to take your kiddos with you to pick out the plants and help you get them in the ground!
- Butterfly Weed
- Bee Balm
- Coral Vine
- Native Wildflowers (like Mexican Hat or Purple Coneflower)
- Shrimp Plant
- Passion Vine
- Milkweed (*see below)
Saving the Monarchs
The monarch butterfly is the state butterfly of Texas, and for good reason! Every year millions of monarch butterflies make their way from the breeding grounds in the north part of the country down to Mexico for the winter. In doing so, they pass through Texas. You will see them come through anytime between September until November.
However, the monarch population has vastly declined, to the point where they are almost an endangered species. Experts attribute this to climate change, deforestation, the wide use of pesticides and land development. It is up to us to help make a difference to save this beautiful butterfly!
That is why it is so important to include plants in your butterfly garden that are beneficial to butterflies, and to the monarch itself. Monarch caterpillars ONLY feed on milkweed, so be sure to include this in your garden. But a word of caution: milkweed sap can be very irritating and especially dangerous if it gets in the eyes, so handle it with gloves and caution your kids against messing with it.
The best varieties for our Houston area are: Giant (Calotropis Gigantea), Butterfly Weed (Asclepias Tuberosa), Aquatic (Asclepias Perennis), Whorled (Asclepias Verticillata), Swamp (Asclepias Incarnata), Pinewoods (Asclepias Humistrata) and White (Asclepias Variegata). Many garden stores will have Tropical (Asclepias Curassavica), and I would caution you against this choice. It does not die back in the winter like the other varieties, which tricks the monarch butterflies into staying here instead of heading further south. And our winters are too harsh for them. So if you do choose tropical, be sure to cut it back in the winter.
And if you are a teacher or have kids in school, talk with them about setting up a butterfly garden at school. You can check out the school program with Save Our Monarchs for assistance.
Starting a butterfly garden is such a great project to do with your kiddos! They will love helping out, and you all will enjoy seeing these beautiful creatures visit you day to day. Be sure to check out my YouTube video for more tips and inspiration. Happy gardening, friends!