Austin residents can visit one of the most beautiful butterfly gardens in the world at the Zilker Botanical Garden. The Doug Blachly Butterfly Trail and Garden features native plants and special feeders that attract many species of butterflies, including Red Admiral, Hackberry, Silver Emperor, Eastern Black Swallowtail, Question Mark, and, of course, the familiar black and orange Monarch butterflies. Homeowners can recapture that natural beauty at home by creating a private butterfly garden. Austin is home to over eighty different species of butterflies, so a butterfly garden is a simple project that will provide hours of enjoyment for you and your family. A bit of research and a green thumb will allow you to provide a garden that will attract butterflies and caterpillars all summer long.
While each species of butterfly has specific preferences, generally milkweed, pipevine, dill, cabbage, fennel and parsley are good choices to start your butterfly garden, since a variety of butterfly species use these plants as sites for depositing their eggs and as food during their caterpillar stage. Certain trees are attractive to caterpillars as well, including sycamore, willow, aspen, and elm trees; incorporating these into your butterfly garden plan will attract a wider variety of species to your yard.
In order to attract adult butterflies, you’ll need to focus your attention on nectar plants. Again, each species has its own special favorites, but the aptly named Butterfly Bush and Butterfly Weed are widely popular with butterflies. Milkweed, marigolds, clover and coneflowers also attract a variety of butterflies, making them good choices for your butterfly garden. Aspiring chefs can benefit from a butterfly garden as well, since butterflies enjoy flowering oregano, garlic chives, dill, fennel, mustard greens, sage, and many other plants familiar in the kitchen.
Most experts recommend starting with one or two butterfly bushes, since they attract a wide variety of butterflies, and surrounding these taller plants with a variety of plant species designed to attract the butterflies you want in your garden. For instance, if you prefer Monarch butterflies, you’ll want to plant a great deal of milkweed; Monarchs flock to these plants both for their nectar and as a place to lay their eggs. Pipevine swallowtails, as their name suggests, prefer to lay their eggs on pipevine. The Monarch-look-alike Viceroy butterfly lays its eggs on willow or cottonwood trees, but prefers asters and thistles for feeding. The bright orange Gulf Fritillary, common in Austin, feeds from a variety of flowering plants including Lantana flowers, but lays its eggs on passion-vine plants. Swallowtails are less choosy, laying their eggs and feeding from a wide variety of plants in the Austin area.
Don’t be disheartened if you don’t attract many butterflies at first. It will take some time for butterflies to discover your garden; however, there are some methods that can attract butterflies more quickly. In general, butterflies are attracted to fermenting or rotting fruit. An overripe banana placed in a butterfly feeder can attract hundreds of butterflies if the conditions are right, so don’t overlook this possible attraction for your butterfly garden.
A well-designed butterfly garden can serve as a refuge from the bustling urban scene. It can even add to the value of your home in some cases. Adding a small bench or a shady deck with a clear view of your butterfly garden can provide you with a quiet reading area as well as a constant source of natural beauty for your family to enjoy, all at very minimal cost. With a few simple plantings and regular maintenance, you will provide a tranquil retreat for your family and a natural habitat for some of Austin’s most colorful residents.