Butterfly Gardening Tips for Western Pennsylvania

Posted by on Apr 11, 2013 in Butterfly Gardening | 0 comments

Butterfly Gardening Tips for Western Pennsylvania


Butterfly Gardening Tips 

  1. Do not use pesticides and herbicides
    1. Most kill butterflies, caterpillars and beneficial insects.
    2. Harmful insects quickly become immune.
    3. Predatory insects and birds will control pests, given time. They may sometimes snack on your butterflies and caterpillars, but you can protect caterpillars by hand-raising them in a cage or enclosed area.
  2. Choose a sunny, protected area
    1. An area receiving at least 5 to 6 hours of sun daily is preferable.
    2. Butterflies seldom feed in shade.
    3. Most plants favored by butterflies prefer sun to partial shade.
    4. Butterflies need shelter from strong winds.
  3. Plant nectar flowers for adult butterflies
    1. Choose perennials and annuals so that some butterfly favorite will be blooming from early spring through late fall.
    2. Plant large areas of one plant species or one color.
    3. Native plants are usually preferred.
    4. Choose single or semi-double blooms over highly double flowers; extremely fancy blooms generally have less nectar, and it is more difficult for butterflies to obtain.
    5. Flat-topped blossoms or clusters of short, tubular flowers are favorites.
    6. Deadhead (cut off dead blooms) to keep plants flowering abundantly.
  4. Plant host plants for butterfly caterpillars
    1. You’ll be able to observe life cycles.
    2. Female butterflies will be drawn to your garden and encouraged to stay and lay eggs.
    3. Without plants for caterpillars, there would be no butterflies.
    4. Larvae do eat leaves and flowers of host plants but don’t usually kill the plants, as so few caterpillars survive more than a few days. Chewed foliage may be unsightly, so screen host plants from main viewing area. Be sure you’ve planted enough to support the growing caterpillars.
  5. Provide water
    1. Butterflies will drink from shallow puddles and dew on leaves.
    2. They will also drink and “puddle” on damp or muddy areas.
  6. If space is limited, try planting butterfly-attracting flowers in containers, window boxes or hanging baskets.
  7. Provide rocks or bare soil to allow butterflies to bask in the sun.
  8. Research before planting
    1. Host plants need to be for larvae of butterflies found in your area.
    2. Determine if flowers/plants prefer dry or moist conditions, full or partial sun, acid or alkaline soil, etc.
    3. Plants grow; don’t place potentially large shrubs/trees where they will block sunlight from smaller flowers.
    4. Start with a few of the butterflies’ favorite flowers.
    5. Observe plants in the wild, in gardens of others, in parks and at plant nurseries to find what grows well and attracts butterflies.
  9. Butterfly gardens attract other wildlife, primarily birds and bees.
    1. Bees rarely sting when feeding.
    2. Use common sense when working in the garden around bees.
    3. Butterfly gardens do not attract rats; rodents go where they can find food.
  10. Protect your butterfly garden from human predators. Adults and children should be encouraged to watch and learn about butterflies and caterpillars without handling them.
  11. Butterfly gardens don’t need to consist exclusively of nectar and host plants. Including some of your favorite flowers and plants is fine.
  12. Be patient! It may take butterflies more than one growing season to find your new garden.


Common host plants for local butterflies in Western Pennsylvania:

Pipevine swallowtail                  Pipevine

Spicebush swallowtail               Spicebush, sassafras

Black swallowtail                      Dill, parsley, carrot, Queen Anne’s lace, fennel

Tiger swallowtail                      Tulip tree, cherry tree, willow tree, lilac

Zebra swallowtail                     Pawpaw

Monarch                                   Milkweed

Viceroy                                     Willow, poplar, apple, cherry, plum

Red-spotted purple                   Apple, cherry, poplar, willow

Great Spangled fritillary          Violet

Variegated fritillary                 Passionflower, violet, plantain

Question mark                          Hackberry, hop, nettle

Red admiral                              Nettle, false nettle, hop, stinging nettle

Painted lady                             Mallow, hollyhock, thistle

Buckeye                                    Plantain, snapdragon, verbena, stonecrop

Mourning cloak                         Willow, elm, poplar

Milbert Torteshell                   Stinging nettle

Cabbage White                                    Mustard family