Find out which butterflies are common in your geographical area. Observation with a field guide will be helpful in deciphering which species you’d like to see in your sanctuary. Common ones in Massachusetts include Monarch, Viceroy, White Admiral, American Snout, Great Spangled Fritillary, Hackberry Emperor and Swallowtail, among many others.
Pick a Host Plant
These host plants are what the caterpillars of your native butterflies eat, and are vital in attracting them to the garden. Without caterpillars, there are no butterflies. Examples include milkweed, which attracts Monarch caterpillars, and parsley, which attracts Black Swallowtail caterpillars.
Pick a Nectar Plant
Nectar plants serve as the food source of adult butterflies. Good choices include butterfly bushes, zinnia or aster. Researching native plants to your geographical area may also be helpful because local butterflies have evolved with those plants and rely on them for food and reproduction.
Plan Your Garden
Draw up a plan and decide where you’re going to arrange your butterfly plants. Consider the plants’ needs for water and sunlight when thinking about where to place them. Try adding flat stones to your garden plan; butterflies like to rest on these rocks and bask in the sun.
Plant Your Garden
Make sure to keep your plants regularly watered, but don’t over-water them. Keep the weeds at bay and try to keep unwanted predators out of the garden.
Observe the Butterfly Activity
Watch for female butterflies laying eggs on host plants and keep an eye out for caterpillars beginning to go through their transformation to butterfly. Enjoy the calming effects of keeping a butterfly garden and record any interesting data you find within the garden. This can be a fun project to do with kids that they can report back to their teachers.
Mabel Sterritt is an intern with Boston Parents Paper.
For an up close and personal experience with hundres of butterflies visit one of Massachusetts’ many butterfly houses.