Butterfly Gardening for Kids


Butterfly Gardening for Kids
  • Posted April 3, 2017

Winged jewels of the air ... flutterbys ... or no matter what you call butterflies, they fasacinate everyone. Planting a garden to attract them is one of the best ways to get children of all ages interested in gardening and nature, while introducing them to a bit of science at the same time.

How to Attract Butterflies

To attract the most butterflies design a garden that provides a long season of flowers (nectar plants). Perennials, such as chives, dianthus, bee balm, butterfly weed, mints, black-eyed Susan, and purple coneflower, offer a succession of blooms. Add annuals that flower all season, such as cosmos, petunias, and zinnias, to fill out the border banquet. Select flowers with many small tubular flowers or florets-liatris - goldenrod, and verbena, for example - or those with single flowers, such as French marigold, Shasta daisy, and sunflower.

Caterpillars may not be your favorite life form - although your kids might disagree with you - but you will have only a fleeting glimpse of butterflies passing through unless you provide some nourishment for their juvenile (larval) stage. Many of those sources are trees and shrubs, at least a few of which probably already grow in your yard - willows, poplars, cherry trees, and spice bush for example, but they also include herbs, such as dill, fennel, angelica, and parsley, and weedy plants like common milkweed and thistles. One of the best-known butterflies, the monarch, lays its eggs only on milkweed, and its larvae feed on the plant. The weediness of some host plants makes them less than desirable for a space within your more attractive garden beds, but they serve the same function if you place them away in a corner of the yard. To keep them from becoming invasive, remember to remove their spent blooms before they go to seed.

Viceroy leaving its' chrysalis


Planning a Child's Garden

Find the sunniest spot in the yard for the garden. Butterflies need the heat of the sun to raise their body temperatures, which helps them fly.

Combine butterfly plants with your other perennials, annuals, and herbs in existing beds, or create a separate garden area especially for the kids. The size of the garden should suit the age of your children; even a space as small as 3 feet by 6 feet will hold enough flowers to attract a few butterflies. If the kids lose interest partway through the season and the garden gets weedy, don't worry: neatness counts for very little to a butterfly. Color, however, is important. Butterflies are attracted to flowers first by their color, and a swath of bright orange butterfly weed or red salvia is easier for them to see than individual or isolated plants. After color, fragrance follows in significance; butterflies have a keen sense of smell.

Incorporate a few rocks in the design. Butterflies often rest on rocks, which reflect the heat of the sun. Edge the garden with rounded rocks, put a small pile towards one side, or make a path through the flowers with flat stepping stones. Create a place where water can collect with a concave rock or a pot saucer filled with wet sand (Moisten the sand periodically if it doesn't rain). Butterflies "puddle" in such spots-the perfect opportunity for kids to watch them up close.

Butterfly garden featuring Coneflowers and Butterfly Bush


Information courtesy of the National Garden Bureau

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Butterfly Gardening for Kids

A Dozen Widespread Butterflies

Admiral, Painted Lady, Azures, Question Mark, Comma, Skipper, Frittilary, Sulphur, Monarch, Swallowtail, Mourning Cloak & Viceroy.

Most of these butterflies include a variety of different species and names, depending on the region of the country you live in. Pick up a regional field guide to get to know those that frequent your area. Also visit the North American Butterfly Association for more information.


More Plants for Butterflies

Caterpillars can feed on these plants & many lay their eggs on them:
Borage
Dill
Fennel
Milkweed
Mints
Parsley
Passion vine
Pearly Everlasting
Snapdragon

Butterflies like these plants for nectar:
Agastache
Aster
Butterfly Bush
Coreopsis
Goldenrod
Lantana
Lavender

Mistflower
Tithonia
Pentas
Salvias