Three steps to create a butterfly garden

Save the Great South Bay offers bay friendly tips


According to Save the Great South Bay, butterflies are not only beautiful to observe but also serve an important role in our ecosystem. Frank Piccininni, director, offers these three steps to create a butterfly garden right in your own backyard.

Monarch butterflies, Piccininni said, travel all the way from Mexico and are gearing up for long flights back requiring compatible plants such as milk weed for adequate foraging.

“Create a landing pad and watch the beautiful nature show,” he said. “If you build it, they will come.”

Step one… check your soil, water and sun levels

These are the indicators that can tell you how well your plants will do in your backyard environment. Some plants, Piccininni explained, enjoy dry sandy soil while others require wet, rich soil. He suggested taking a look at the USDA plants data base to find what plants might adapt well to your specific location.

“Pick some plants that will do best where [you are],” he added.

He also suggested providing trees

Step two… find or plant an anchor

Provide a tree as a home base and recognize that leaves are not litter. According to Piccininni leaves give habitat to pollinators during the colder months.

“We should be able to keep dense leaf litter under trees where butterflies can live under during the winter,” he said.

Not every plant, though he said, have the same ecological value to attract pollinators. He suggested choosing plants that attract the widest variety of birds, insects and small animals.

The National Wildlife Foundation native plant finder allows you to find plants based off your zip code. For example, Oak trees attract 521 species, beach plums attract 455 and willow trees bring 431.

“Trees are by far the most productive from a pollinator stand point,” he said. “If you want to bring pollinators plant trees.”
Butterfly gardens will also require forage species including golden rod, wild strawberry, swamp sunflower and joe-pye.

Step three…plant for seasonal color

Choose plants for functional beauty so that your garden offers plants in bloom during each season. Piccininni suggests planting golden rods in the fall, beach plum in the spring and milkweed in the summer.

“We need to be cognizant when planning a butterfly garden that we have something that would be in bloom at each period in the year,” he said.

Other positives…

Butterfly gardens can liven up unsightly patches of grass and dirt in front of bulkheads and can become a living nature exhibit for children. Gardens can also provide solace for other pollinators including bees.

“Don’t sterilize your yard and it will become a rich area for your kiddos to explore, learn and be in touch with nature,” he continued.


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