URBANA, Ill. – There are approximately 2,000 species of butterflies and moths native to Illinois, and creating a butterfly oasis can bring them to your backyard.
“One of the things to remember when creating a butterfly oasis is to provide both nectar sources for butterflies and larval food sources for caterpillars,” says University Extension horticulture educator Kari Houle.
In addition to providing food sources, Houle says that planning a butterfly oasis requires careful plant and fixture selection for the garden.
“Plan for continuous season-long blooms, provide resting spaces, minimize pesticide use, and be willing to accept some plant damage due to larval feeding. Choose a sunny location that is protected from wind,” she says.
Gardeners should also provide opportunities for “puddling,” when male butterflies visit mud puddles for water and minerals. “Mimic mud puddles in your garden by providing a tray with wet sand and some sticks and rocks for the butterflies to land on,” Houle says. “Make sure to check the puddling tray regularly to ensure the sand hasn’t dried out.”
It’s a good idea to include large flat stones or other landing surfaces in the sun so that cold-blooded butterflies can bask and collect heat from the sun.
When planning the butterfly oasis, use large masses of color instead of small color pockets because butterflies are short-sighted. Consider the flowers’ colors when choosing plants. Butterflies prefer red, pink, or purple flowers, but they will also visit other colored flowers.
“One of the other important parts of successfully creating a butterfly oasis is to minimize pesticide usage,” says Houle. “Since we want to encourage both butterflies and caterpillars, many insecticides can be harmful to one or the other. Understand that a certain level of plant damage is necessary. Break out of the normal mindset of trying to prevent plant damage from insect feeding and allow it in your butterfly oasis.”
If you do have insect damage requiring attention, spot treating the issue instead of using broad-spectrum insecticides has multiple benefits. “Reducing insecticide use in the garden can have the added benefit of allowing the increase of beneficial insects and natural predators,” Houle says.
“My summer goal is to start a butterfly oasis in my backyard,” Houle says. “Will you join me?”