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Butterflies in Your Backyard

feeding-monarch1By Roger Williams Park Zoo, Education Department

Spring is here! A butterfly garden is a great first garden project for children. By planting your garden now, you will enjoy the benefits throughout spring, summer, and fall. Make it as simple or complex as you want. A well-designed garden needs relatively little upkeep.

In order to attract butterflies, you should choose host plants, for egg-laying and caterpillar food, and nectar plants, for adult food. Man-made pesticides should be avoided as they can harm the butterflies that you are trying to attract. Natural pest deterrents, such as crushed eggshells spread around the base of plants to ward off slugs, and natural fertilizers, such as compost or manure, are safe and effective ways to care for plants. Mulching is a great way to provide water retention and inhibit weed growth.

Creating Your Butterfly Garden

  • Pick a sunny spot and prepare the soil by turning and aerating it with a pitchfork. You may want to add nutrients to your soil by using natural compost or manure.
  • Cone flower, pentas, milkweed, and butterfly bush are a good combination of plants for a butterfly garden. A mix of nectar and host plants will increase your garden’s attractiveness to butterflies.
  • Holes for the plants should be twice the diameter of the root ball. Gently loosen the root ball and place plants in the holes. Fill in with loose soil and water.
  • Different butterfly species will come to your garden at different times of the year. You may see Monarchs, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, or Spicebush Swallowtails, to name a few. As you continue to water and care for your garden, you should attract more butterflies each year.

pentas-with-butterfliesOnce your garden is planted, the fun isn’t over. Keep interest alive by having your children care for the garden (including watering – the best part!) and by keeping a nature journal, either worded or pictorial, recording the butterflies that stop in your garden.

For more information on this fun family activity, you can consult the Roger Williams Park Zoo’s butterfly exhibit website. In addition, Peterson Field Guide to Butterflies and Moths is a good resource to help with the identification of the garden visitors.

Photos courtesy of Roger Williams Park Zoo. Top: Monarch feeding on a cone flower, which is a great nectar plant. You can even see its proboscis extended into the flower. Giant swallowtails feeding on pentas, another great nectar plant.

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