Mother Nature will bring butterflies to your doorstep. Although geography is a factor, they will grace your yard if you provide two types of plants: host plants and nectar plants. You just need to know the difference between these two butterfly garden plants. If you grow them, they will come. Butterfly gardening made easy.
It started with an 8 year old boy. My son and I were at a local Pioneers day festival years ago. We happened upon a man selling the monarch chrysalis. My son was smitten and home we came with our first soon-to-be butterfly. The little boy is now a grown man and I am still playing with caterpillars and butterflies. Caterpillar – Chrysalis – Butterfly. It is a wonderful journey to witness.
Butterfly Garden Plants
To attract butterflies you must grow both host and nectar plants. Understanding the difference between them is the most important thing you need to know about butterfly gardening. Note: your location will influence the different species of butterflies you might attract. You can easily determine what butterflies are in your region at the Butterflies and Moths of North America web site.
Nectar plants are the food source for butterflies. Any plant with a bloom provides nectar. Butterflies of all species drink nectar with their long proboscis.
Host Plants are the food source for the caterpillars. The caterpillar of each species of butterfly can only eat one type of plant. Find out the host plant for the butterflies in your area and start growing them in your yard.
Milkweed is the Host Plant for the Monarch Butterfly
I raise monarchs in my butterfly garden. The host plant for monarch caterpillars is milkweed. The female will only lay eggs on a milkweed plant. If you have milkweed, mother monarch will more than likely find it and lay her eggs in your garden too.
Planting milkweed seeds will help with a dwindling food supply due to spraying and mowing.
The Monarch Caterpillar (larva)
The stages of a monarch butterfly are wonderful to witness. The female monarch will lay a white pin-size egg on the underside of a milkweed leaf. In 3-5 days you will have a baby caterpillar. They will eat and eat and eat. As it grows it molts – sheds its skin. They do this 5 times. These stages are called instars. They grow 2,700 times their original size in 2 weeks! It’s amazing to watch these eating machines.
Once I spot an egg or baby caterpillar in my garden I put them in a screen enclosure to keep the wasps from snacking on them. I feed them fresh milkweed everyday. Be sure to source a nearby nursery that carries milkweed as one caterpillar can devour a whole plant in 2 weeks. Because they eat a lot, they will create a lot of waste called frass.
The J Shape
When the monarch caterpillar gets big and juicy they hang upside down. They spin silk to anchor themselves into a J-shape. Within 24 hours they shed their skin! I am so thrilled to share this process on a video I shot recently.
The jade colored chrysalis of the monarch butterfly resembles an exquisite piece of jewelry with 24 beads of gold.
Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly within 14 days.
The monarch emerges (ecloses) early morning. They are wrapped tightly and will need a few hours to spread their wings. Only when the wings are dry do I cup them gently and release them back to nature!