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Gardening for Butterflies

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Gardening for Butterflies in Florida

Gardening for butterflies involves the same requirements as gardening for wildlife in general. You must provide adequate food, water, and shelter as well as avoid negative impacts on the habitat and environment. Use these ideas to build an ideal butterfly habitat in your own garden.

Food:
A butterfly garden requires a good mix of plants so you can feed both adult butterflies and their caterpillars. Most butterflies drink nectar, while their caterpillars eat specific plants known as “host plants”. Educating yourself about the kinds of butterflies you can expect to see in your area will allow you to provide the right nectar and host plants for them.

Plant Resources:



Some butterflies will not nectar from flowers and instead prefer tree sap, rotting fruit, and even carrion and animal dung. You can attract these butterflies with a dish of overripe fruit like bananas or oranges in your garden. Click here to learn more about Dinner for Butterflies.

Water:
While caterpillars receive all the hydration they need from the plants they eat, adult butterflies must supplement their nectar with water. It’s extremely difficult for a butterfly to drink water from an open source like a lake or river, so butterflies get their water from puddles on the ground or water left on leaves after a rain. When they drink from mud puddles, they also obtain valuable salts and minerals they need to survive. You can provide a butterfly “puddling spot” in your garden by simply creating a small puddle filled with water from your rain barrel, or click here for a DIY butterfly puddling bath you can make yourself.

Shelter:
At night and during inclement weather, butterflies need to take shelter. They are fragile creatures, easily damaged by rain and wind. They take shelter by hanging upside-down from leaves or other protected places. Provide shrubs or ornamental grasses in your yard for butterflies to find shelter.

A Note About “Butterfly Houses”: In some catalogs or stores, you may find small wooden houses with slits in the walls that are sold as “Butterfly Houses” or “Shelters”. While there’s nothing wrong with adding one of these to your garden, it’s unlikely that butterflies will really use it. Natural shrubs and grasses are more familiar to them, and provide just as much protection.


Sustainable Gardening Practices:
Wildlife gardeners know that it’s best to avoid using pesticides of any kinds in the garden. Butterflies and caterpillars are insects, and will be killed by any kind of pesticide. If you need to control pests like aphids in your garden, spray them with a hose or remove them by hand. Overuse of fertilizers can also be a problem in the garden, as the fertilizer can contaminate groundwater and nearby lakes and streams. Choose native plants that require no fertilizer, or apply only specific fertilizers as needed by specific plants.

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