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Planting a Butterfly Garden in Georgia

A black swallowtail sits atop some thistle.

A butterfly garden is a great addition to any backyard oasis. Butterflies often evoke feelings of peace and tranquility. As pollintators, they also have an important role to play in the ecosystem: helping plants to reproduce. Whether you have altrustic intentions of saving pollinators and helping the environment, or just like the sight of these beautiful creatures, you might consider creating a small butterfly oasis in your back yard.

Nectar Plants Vs Host Plants

One of the first things to learn about when considering a butterfly garden is the differences between host plants and nectar plants. Nectar plants provide a place for butterflies to feed. Most of the time they will take a quick drink of nectar from your flowers and go along their journey.

Host plants, however, are where butterflies choose to lay their eggs. Many species of butterflies are very particular about which plants to lay eggs on – for example milkweed is the only host plant of monarch butterflies. Once the eggs are hatched, host plants provide food for the caterpillars. If the thought of caterpillars eating parts of your garden bothers you, you may want to stick to nectar plants. However, if you are interested in seeing the whole life cycle of a butterfly and contributing to the growth of the butterfly population, be sure to add host plants to your garden. For best results, use nectar plants to attract the butterflies and host plants to help them grow.

Common Georgia Butterflies

There are over 160 species of buterflies that make Georgia their home. With that many butterflies it’s pretty easy to find nectar plants and host plants that they will love. Here are some of the more common species of butterflies in Georgia and their host plants. Some butterflies will actually use a variety of host plants, so if you want to attract a certain type of butterfly it’s a good idea to research what they prefer.

  • Monarch – Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail – tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) and wild cherry (Prunus avium)
  • Painted Lady- Thistle (Cirsium altissimum) and Hollyhock (Alcea)
  • Gulf Fritillary – Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
  • Common Buckeye – Wild Petunia(Ruellia caroliniensis) and Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus)
  • Mourning Cloak – Black Willow (Salix nigra)
  • Gray Hairstreak Rose Mallow – (Hibiscus moscheutos)
  • Zebra Swallowtail – Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)
  • Cloudless Sulphur – Coffeeweed (Senna obtusifolia) and Septicweed (Senna occidentalis)
  • Pipevine Swallowtail – Dutchman’s Pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla)

If you would like more information about Georgia butterflies and their host plants, download this pdf from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Popular Plants to Attract Butterflies

  • Lantana (Lantana camara) – These multicolored flowers love full sun and are loved by butterflies and hummingbirds alike. Generally grown as annuals, lantana may come back the next year if the winter is mild.
  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) – A colorful perennial that produces a lot of nectar, this is a favorite of all pollinators.
  • Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) – These yellow flowers with dark centers thrive in full sun.
  • Coneflowers (Echinacea spp) – These daisy-like perennials are easy to grow and prefer the sun. They attract many butterflies such as painted ladies, monarchs, and different types of swallowtails.
  • Asters (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) –
  • Hollyhock (Alcea) – A host plant for the painted lady butterfly, this biennial flower needs full sun and rich soil.
  • Phlox (Phlox drummondii) – This beautiful groundcover does well in sun or partial shade and is a favorite nectar source for the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly.
  • Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) – These tall annuals are also host plants for the common buckeye butterfly.
  • Lavender (Lavandula) – This aromatic perennial herb needs full sun and sandy, well-drained soil.
  • Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) – These tall annuals beckon both birds and butterflies. As the name suggests, these flowers need full sun.

Bonus for Butterflies: A Puddling Station

Like us, butterflies like to stay hydrated on those sunny days. Creating a butterfly garden puddling station gives them a place to get a quick drink and encourages them to stick around. To create a puddling station, add some sand or dirt to a shallow container. This provides the butterflies with minerals. Add just enough water to moisten the sand or dirt. Finally put some rocks, pebbles, or even marbles for them to land on.

You can learn more about making a puddling station in this video by AJC Gardening Guru Walter Reeves.

Creating a butterfly garden very fulfilling. In addition to butterflies, you might find yourself seeing more birds as well. The last, optional part of a butterfly garden is a bench where you can relax and enjoy these beautiful creatures fluttering by.

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