Monthly Archives: July 2019

Want Butterflies? Plant Host Plants!

I’m often asked, “How do I start a butterfly garden?” and, “How can I get butterflies to come to my garden?” or, “I have lots of flowers but how come I never see any butterflies?”

Plant host plants! It takes more than nectar to entice butterflies to take up residence in your garden. Larval host plants are the secret to successful butterfly gardening; they are plants required by a caterpillar for growth and development. By planting host plants in your garden, you offer a promise of food for the next generation and will attract more butterflies than you thought possible.

If you do not have host plants in your garden, butterflies may come to visit the flowers for nectar, but then they will leave. Butterflies are on a mission. Females are busy looking for places to lay their eggs. Males are also attracted to host plants, where they can find females for mating. So make it easy for them and plant those plants they need for their offspring.

A female Monarch butterfly deposits eggs on Tropical milkweed. One female can deposit 400-500 eggs in her short lifetime.

Below are some common North American butterflies and their host plants. I have included some of the most common and easiest butterflies to attract. As you learn more about the different species of butterflies that are native to your area you can expand the different types of host plants to put in your garden.

In my opinion, the most important host plant you can have in your butterfly garden is Milkweed, and the more the better! There are many species of Milkweeds you can plant which are suited to where you live. In fact, in the United States, there are over 100 species of native Milkweeds. It can be challenging to find native milkweeds to purchase at local nurseries. Your best bet is to find native nurseries in your area that might carry native Milkweeds. You can find seeds and starter plants online here:

The American Lady is found throughout temperate North America.

Common Rue is one of my favorite host plants. It can grow 2-3 feet tall and is a perennial.

Black Swallowtails are found from southern Canada through to South America. In North America, they are more common east of the Rocky Mountains.

There are several species of passion vine that can be used as host plants but the Blue Passionflower (Passiflora caerulea) is a vigorous, deciduous vine that is hardy down to −10 °C (14 °F).

Painted Lady butterflies are found in all 48 contiguous states. These butterflies use many different plants as hosts but these are some of the most common.

Common Buckeye butterflies are found in the southern half of the US and the eastern side of the northern half of the United States. Buckeye butterflies lay eggs on a wide variety of host plants.

Cabbage White butterflies are found throughout North America. Great Southern White butterflies are found from the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. It is migratory along the southeastern coast of the United States, with strays to Maryland, Kansas, and Colorado.

Remember, you cannot have a butterfly without the caterpillar and you cannot have the caterpillar without that host plant. So plant lots of host plants. You can never have too many.

For a more comprehensive list of butterflies and their host plants, click here.

Resources for Host Plants:
Rose Frankin Perennials 
Shady Oak Butterfly Farm 
Lupine Gardens and Chemical Free Native Plants

Are Wasps a Challenge in Your Garden?

Most butterfly gardeners are aware that wasps can wreak havoc in the garden. Many are natural predators of butterflies and their young.

Many people this summer have been complaining that wasps are killing off the butterfly caterpillars in their garden. Wasps can definitely be a challenge. Wasps will attack and consume eggs, caterpillars, and even the chrysalises.

Last summer I had a huge problem with wasps. I do not like to use wasp spray to kill the wasps because I feel that the pesticide can have a negative impact on the butterflies and other insects, including bees. I usually just try to eliminate the nests by knocking them down, but I got stung in the process. And believe me, that is not a pleasant experience. So I have come up with some solutions to deal with those pesky wasps.

Wasps are on constant patrol for butterfly caterpillars.

Protect the caterpillars in your garden. One of the easiest ways to protect the young larvae is to cover the plant on which they are feeding with mesh netting.

Organza bags with drawstrings can be used to protect eggs and caterpillars. They are inexpensive and easy-to-use. Click Here or on this photo for more information and to purchase.

You can use a tomato cage or wooden dowels to support netting over the host plants to protect caterpillars from wasps. Thanks to Kristine Sgrignoli Davison for sharing these ideas and photos.

Shelter your butterfly livestock. Another way to protect eggs and caterpillars is to place them in a pop-up cage or large screened enclosure. A screened-in porch is a perfect place to raise caterpillars. I will place potted host plants outside and then once a female butterfly has deposited eggs on the plant, I will place the plant inside a pop-up cage inside or on a porch.

Placing caterpillars inside pop-up cages are a very effective way to protect them from wasps. Click Here or on this photo to see a variety of cages and to purchase.

Eliminate the wasps. Although it’s impossible to eliminate wasps altogether, you can try to get rid of as many as possible using wasp traps. You can purchase commercial traps or you can make your own. The ingredients inside will attract wasps in a matter of days. Because the head is turned around, they’ll slide right in and won’t be able to come out. Just be sure to keep an eye on the trap. You’ll need to dispose of the dead wasps periodically and refill the trap with ingredients when necessary.

Click Here or on this photo to see more information and to purchase these non-toxic wasp traps.

The added vinegar in this recipe is important because it’ll keep bees away and we don’t want to harm the bees!

Keep the wasps away! Another less-invasive strategy is to hang up decoy wasps nests. Some wasps are territorial and so will not make new nests near other existing nests. You can make your own by using a small paper bag or you can purchase commercially-made decoys.

This wasp-deterrent nest repels wasps, is eco-friendly, and will function without harm to you and your family. Simply hang these for effective results! Click Here on on this photo for more information and to purchase.

Click here to learn about the different kinds of wasps:

Butterflies of North America (Animated Poster)


Spread the message with this “Plant Milkweed T-shirt by Butterfly Lady: