Gardens full of flowers are one of the most stunning sights around. They’re even more beautiful when you see breathtaking butterflies flying fleetingly from plant to plant with their delicate wings displaying a rainbow of colours.
Seeing a lot of butterflies in a garden is a good thing, because this means that there are more chances of pollination. The more butterflies there are, the more opportunities for flowering plants to grow. And as I always say, one can never have too many flowers.
It’s unfortunate that the number of butterflies is dwindling, however. This is brought about by a number of factors, one of which is the destruction of their natural habitats. What are we to do?
The answer is simple and can be done in our own backyard.
Butterflies in Australia
Australia has a rich flora and fauna, including 400+ species of butterflies. While most of the butterflies found here are continental species, there are about a dozen or so that are native to Australia.
These are some of the species you’ll find in the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, the largest butterfly aviary in all of Oz. If you’re lucky enough, you just might find the same butterflies flying about in your yard.
- Australian lurcher butterfly
- Cairns birdwing
- Common eggfly butterfly
- Cruiser butterfly
- Hercules moth
- Orchard butterfly
- Orange lacewing
- Orchard swallowtail butterfly
- Red lacewing butterfly
- Ulysses butterfly
How to attract butterflies
Make your garden attractive to butterflies by providing food and shelter for these insects through each stage of their life cycle. Here are the best ways to bring in more butterflies and help them proliferate in your yard:
- Position a butterfly garden where there’s full sun.
- Cultivate host plants like the butterfly bush in your garden for butterflies to lay their eggs on.
- Provide food for caterpillars by planting clover, dill, fennel, milkweed, parsley, and sunflower.
- Plant nectar plants that butterflies can feed on.
- Choose colourful flowers like daisies, lavender, and kangaroo paw for your flowerbed. Butterflies are attracted to the colours purple, orange, red, yellow, and pink. Flat-top flowers like daisies and bluebells are also ideal resting places for butterflies.
- Use a bird bath or soil puddle as a water source for butterflies.
- Place a makeshift feeder in your garden made of sugar water, rotting fruit moistened with fruit juice, or Gatorade.
- Avoid spraying your garden with pesticides.
- Deter butterfly-eating predators such as frogs, rats, and snakes from your garden.
The butterfly life cycle
Butterflies are so iconic in pop culture that you see them everywhere, from lyrics and tattoos, to wall installations and birthday party themes. Think of any iconic coming-of-age film, and it’s basically a butterfly’s life cycle you’re looking at.
It would help to understand the process of how a caterpillar transforms into an adult butterfly if you want to see more of these awe-inspiring insects in your garden. Now is a good time to go back to your childhood science classes and try to remember what you learned about metamorphosis, or the stages of a butterfly’s life cycle:
- Eggs. An adult butterfly lays eggs on the leaves of a plant. You will usually find butterfly eggs on the underside of leaves to keep them protected until they hatch.
- Caterpillar. When an egg hatches, the butterfly larvae, or caterpillar, emerges. It will stay in this form while feeding on leaves until it’s time for the next stage in the life cycle, the pupa.
- Pupa. Your black or green grub will start to hang itself upside down on a leaf then hide in a cocoon. Cocoons are made of silk, which caterpillars secrete before they pupate. It’s during the pupa state when the magic occurs, and your odd-looking crawly transforms into a beautiful insect with majestic, colourful wings.
- Adult butterfly. Adult butterflies lay their eggs, and the life cycle begins all over again.
How to make your garden a magnet for butterflies
So where do you come in? Here are the things you need in a butterfly garden:
Step 1. Position your butterfly garden where there is sunlight
Much like sunflowers, lemon trees, and all things bright and beautiful, butterflies love basking under the sun. During warmer weather, though, you’ll find butterflies move to a shadier part of your garden.
With this in mind, find a position for your butterfly garden where there is plenty of early morning sun. Add rocks in your butterfly garden where your butterflies can rest and sun themselves.
Step 2. Add a water source
Apart from sunlight, butterflies enjoy taking in moisture. A bird bath provides butterflies much-needed hydration. It’s also a good resting place for them when they’re tired of flying from flower to flower.
An alternative solution if you don’t have a bird bath is to dig small depressions in the soil and fill these with water. You’ll soon find butterflies resting on these puddles to cool themselves and drink.
Step 3. Create a butterfly shelter
Butterfly wings are very delicate, so be sure to protect them from strong wind. You don’t have to build a butterfly box, though. These insects don’t really use them except when in hibernation.
However, if you think that adding one will make your garden more attractive and you would really like to go for it, paint these boxes in the butterfly’s favourite colours like red, pink, or purple to attract butterflies into visiting your outdoor space more.
You can make a butterfly shelter by simply putting together rocks to make a rock formation and planting trees with lush foliage. During a storm or when there are strong winds, butterflies hide in the crevices between rocks or the underside of leaves.
Step 4. Make a butterfly feeder
Butterflies taste with their feet, which is why you’ll find them perched for a minute or two on flat-top flowers and nectar plants. In the event that you’re having difficulty cultivating flowering plants in your garden or you lack the space to grow them, you can set up makeshift butterfly feeders using any of the following:
- fruit juice
- 15% sugar water
- 15% honey water
Butterflies are also attracted to rotting fruit such as banana, nectarine, orange, kiwi, apple, watermelon, and grapefruit. Put small portions of any of these fruits moistened with water or fruit juice on a plate and watch butterflies flock to your garden by the numbers.
Plant caterpillar food
While caterpillars are the ugly duckling phase of a butterfly, you can’t be selective about them if you want to have plenty of butterflies flying about in your garden. These grubs may not be as popular or stunning as their adult form, but making sure they have plenty of food and shelter ensures that they’ll be able to move on to the next stages of their life cycle.
Much like how babies love drinking milk, caterpillars love their plant baby food. Examples of native plants that caterpillars are fond of are wattles, bush peas, purple fan flower, and sedges. These are also excellent host plants for sheltering butterfly eggs. Having plenty of these plant species in your garden will make for a thriving butterfly habitat in your home in no time at all.
Here’s a caveat: caterpillars tend to have a big appetite once they’ve found the plants they like to feed on. Be prepared to see holes bitten off from leaves and various other parts of these plants when your caterpillars have taken a liking to them.
Making a butterfly garden for kids
No doubt about it, butterflies and kids go together. They’re both playful, energetic, and love colour. Creating a butterfly garden can double up as a play space for your kids. Get your little ones involved in setting up a butterfly garden by planting different flowering plants in your area. Butterfly bush and fairy fishing rods are popular choices when picking blooms for both kids and butterflies.
Ask your kids to draw and colour the different butterflies they spot in your garden and compile them into a butterfly book. Help them make garden tags in different colours to mark where these insects usually perch. It’s a fun learning activity you can share with them!
How to have butterflies in your garden all year round
When it comes to making your garden a hub for butterflies, you’ll need all the help you can get. Butterflies love a little wild and messy dynamic here and there. They enjoy your garden the most when they can feed and sun themselves well and have plenty of grass, trees, and flowers to fly to.
If you want to make your yard more attractive to butterflies, you can ask your local gardeners to cultivate flowering or nectar plants in your garden and maintain them for you. This way, you’ll have brightly-coloured blooms and healthy nectar plants that butterflies can call their home all year round.