Design a Butterfly Garden

Butterfly feeding on red pentas

Photo courtesy of David Davidson

Butterflies are not only beautiful to look at in the landscape; they serve as important pollinators of  fruiting plants. Attracting them to the garden and incorporating some features to get them to stay and reproduce involves advanced planning. Some steps to achieve butterfly garden optimization are outlined below.

  • Choose a location that provides some protection from wind. Trees and shrubs that provide wind protection also serve as a safe harbor from rain and predators.
  • The garden should offer both sunny and partially sunny environments.
  • Ensure that any new plantings have access to a convenient irrigation source. A plentiful water source allows butterflies to be successfully established and maintained in good health.

Now plants need to be chosen. Adults feed on the nectar of many flowering trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals.  Fortunately, there are usually many choices that will meet diverse site requirements and varied taste preferences. In order to retain garden butterflies, certain plants need to be available to serve as host plants for their young. Here are a few hits to assist with this selection process.

  • Determine which species of butterfly is common in a given geographical area. Most species have very few plants on which the caterpillars can feed, so host plants need to be chosen wisely.
  • Determine whether any of the existing plants are host plants and if they are appropriate for a butterfly garden. For example, cassia is a host plant for the Cloudless Sulphur and citrus is a host plant for the Giant Swallowtail.
  • In choosing  nectar plants, select those that are native or Florida-Friendly as they are lower maintenance, and less troublesome in the long run.
  • Choose plants that have flowers in a variety of color, size, and shape. Different butterflies like to feed at different elevations, so choose trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals of varying heights.
  • In order to have nectar available throughout the time when the butterflies occur, include plants that bloom at different times of the year. And include some plants that bloom all the time, like pentas or moss verbena.

Larger plants should be placed in the background with smaller plants layered in the foreground. When planting smaller annuals and perennials, place them in masses to better attract the butterflies. Consider placing host plants in an area that is in close proximity to the nectar plants, but in an area of your garden that is not a focal point. Host plants can get quite ragged looking from hungry caterpillars!

Good maintenance practices will enhance garden health. Regular fertilization, and as needed irrigation,  will help keep garden plants in bloom and healthy – healthy plants are less susceptible to disease and pests. Avoid pesticides as they may harm butterflies and other beneficial insects. Never use a Bt or systemic pesticide since these target butterfly larvae. Lower risk oils or soaps are useful in treating localized insect infestations however. Lastly, be aware of beneficial insects that will help achieve satisfactory pest control.

Once the plants are placed there are several things to do to complete the butterfly garden.

  • Add a spot where water can puddle on the ground for the adult butterflies to drink. They require minerals from the soil that get dissolved in the water.
  • Also add a rock or log in a sunny spot where butterflies can rest and sun themselves.
  • Consider placing a comfortable place for you to sit and enjoy the beauty of your garden and its inhabitants!

For more infortmation on butterfly gardening and for a plant list, please check out Butterfly Gardening in Florida

Enjoy the Butterflies !


Palm Care Tips

Many landscape managers and home owners, especially on the gulf coast, wants to add the tropical feel to their landscape.  The chief way to achieve this is by incorporating Palms and other tropical plants to their surroundings.  Like with any other plant one would like to care for it properly.  The improper care of Palms, I would like to blame on simple lack of “know how” and nothing else.  Some palm care practices are a real problem in Northwest Florida; whether it is pruning, installing, or fertilizing.  University of Florida has some great resources available on Palm care and maintenance.  Let’s hit some highlights and use these tips to improve Palm care in northwest Florida.

First, installation is very important with Palms, as it is with all plants.  One practice that ultimately results in death to a Palm is planting too deeply.  Some have done this in the past to help secure the Palm from falling over.  This may seem like a good idea but will harm the plant in many ways.  Look at these two palms that were planted at the same time, see the difference?

Make sure when your planting to dig the hole twice as wide as the rootball and only as deep as the rootball is tall.  Then for support build a supporting structure, but do not nail directly into the trunk (this will allow an entry point for disease).  Once planted, water the palm in thoroughly, allowing for all the air pockets to be compromised   If the fronds are tied up, untie them as soon as your palm is planted.

The next issue that faces palm lovers is pruning palms.  Many prune a palm too much for a variety of reasons.  Take a look at this palm for an example of a palm that has been pruned too much.


Follow the 9 to 3 clock rule, only pruning above the horizontal line of the crown of the palm.  If you follow this rule you will generally be pruning correctly.

Read more about pruninginstalling and general palm information for northwest Florida.

Photo Credits, University of Florida.