Learning Outdoors

The butterfly is a flying flower,
The flower a tethered butterfly.
~Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun

swallowtail-on-flower

Butterflies are colorful, interesting insects. Many children find them fascinating. In fact, butterflies have become so popular that over the last few decades, butterfly houses and pavilions have sprung up all over. Children are more likely to have experienced butterflies close up than ever before. You may wonder whether you even need to plant your own butterfly garden when a trip to see butterflies is only a car ride away.

Although butterfly exhibits are educational and fun to explore, some children will be inspired to learn more about butterflies after visiting. Here are a few good reasons to consider butterfly gardening with children:

Butterfly-Gardening- Infographic2(By the way, this comparison is not intended to be negative about butterfly exhibits, but only to encourage exploration beyond their limits.)

Tips for Starting Your Own Butterfly Garden

What do butterflies need to survive? Food, water and shelter are all important. Let's find out how to provide butterflies with the necessities.

1. Adult Butterfly Nectar Plants

An easy way to get started with butterfly gardening is to provide some flowering plants to provide nectar for adult butterflies. These plants may be in your yard or even in pots on your patio.

Choosing plants can be a bit daunting at first. Try taking a walk around some local gardens and note which plants butterflies are visiting. Check with local butterfly societies and plant nurseries for suggestions, as well. Ideally you want to have a range of plants that bloom over the entire growing season.

Native versus non-native plants

When you are just starting out, you may just want to try planting some old favorites, like zinnias or cosmos. Butterfly experts recommend, however, that you also include some native or local plants. For example, given a choice between:

real-butterfly-weed-dcThe butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) which is native to eastern North America, or...

tropical-butterfly-milkweed-flowers-orange

the the exotic tropical or blood milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, the butterfly milkweed is a safer bet. If you are an experienced butterfly gardener, you might want to check this .pdf article about the recent controversy about the tropical milkweed and the monarch butterfly.

Some butterfly favorite plants are:

  • milkweeds (monarchs, queens)
  • lantana
  • butterfly bush
  • ageratum (attracts male queen butterflies)
  • dill, fennel or parsley (swallowtails)
  • hollyhocks (painted lady)
  • passion flower (fritillaries)

2. Caterpillar host plants

If you are interested in raising butterflies and seeing the life stages, then it is important to provide the plants that caterpillars use for food. Caterpillars often have specific and limited feeding preferences. Look for information about your local butterflies and their hosts at websites like Butterflies and Moths of North America (click on the "regional checklists" tab).

black-swallowtail-larva-Papilio polyxenes-22

Dill and fennel are eaten by certain swallowtail caterpillars. Butterfly gardeners always plant some extra for the butterflies.

3. Water

Even though many butterflies drink nectar, some also drink water or obtain nutrients from wet spots in the garden. Providing a damp bare spot or patch of moist sand is likely to be enough.

nice-swallowtail-puddling

4. Shelter

Butterflies need places to stow away at night, and to shelter from wind and rain during the day. Providing leafy shrubs and trees, plus not being excessively tidy are great ways to ensure butterflies have safe places to hide.

This video from University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension has some good ideas.



Other suggestions:

No two butterfly gardens will be alike. They will vary according to region, size and the individual taste of the gardeners. Make butterfly gardening a family project and don't be afraid to let your creativity run wild.

Consider recording your observations via a nature journal, photographs and sound recordings. You might even want to keep a blog or share on Instagram or Flickr to inspire other butterfly gardeners. The possibilities are endless!

Do you have a butterfly garden? Have you gardened with children? What tips would you share? Have you encountered any problems? What suggestions do you have to avoid them?

Be sure to check our Butterfly Gardening With Children links page for more activities throughout the week.

butterfly-gardening-with-children

 

Butterfly gardening has become an incredibly popular activity. It is so easy, because all it requires is a little space and a few carefully chosen plants. It can be an extremely rewarding activity to carry out with children, who can experience hands-on science at its best while learning about topics like pollination, insect life cycles, and weather. We are so excited about it that we are going to devote a week of blog posts to butterfly gardening with children.

butterfly-gardening-with-children

Our schedule:

Monday: The basics of butterfly gardening with children.

Tuesday: Figure out the five Mystery Seeds that will become great butterfly garden plants.

Edit:  The answers are now posted. See five great nectar plants for butterfly gardens.

Wednesday:  Identifying Butterflies for Beginners (with activity suggestions)

Thursday:  Pollination and butterflies (with activity suggestions)

Friday:  Adding trees to your butterfly garden.

We made it through the week!

 

Growing Resource List:

Butterfly and Moth Activities at Growing with Science website.

Butterfly Project has information about starting a butterfly garden.

Butterfly science activities here at Growing with Science blog

The North American Butterfly Association (NABA) has an extensive list of plants for butterfly gardens.

All about monarch butterflies and their migrations at Journey North

More about identifying butterflies at Gardens With Wings

See our list of fabulous children's books about butterflies and moths at Science Books for Kids.

 

Please join us and feel free to add links to your own posts, any questions, or ideas for topics about butterfly gardening with children in the comments.

 

Our new affiliate, Botanical Interests, has a wide selection of butterfly gardening seeds including Bring Home the Butterflies Seed Mix and Butterfly Milkweed seeds. If you click through the ads and order seeds, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Want to learn more about your local birds? One of our favorite bird-related activities, the Great Backyard Bird Count, is coming up next month:  February 13-16, 2015.

GBBCblogbutton

The bird count is a prime example of a child-friendly citizen science project. Basically all you need to do is count the birds you see over 15 minutes and then report them on the website. Although it is called "backyard," you can count anywhere you find birds, including parks, preserves or fields.

There is plenty of information and instructions about getting started at the website.

Related Activities:

We recommend picking up some good informational books about birds to share. For example, Capstone Press has a number of books for beginning readers, including the titles in the Birds of Prey Series.

Peregrine Falcons by Melissa Hill and Gail Saunders-Smith, PhD, Consultant Editor

Did you know that peregrine falcons are the fastest animals on the planet? They can reach speeds of over 200 mph when diving. They are found throughout the world, except at temperature extremes (hot tropics and coldest polar regions). Learn more about these incredibly fascinating birds.

Age Range: 4 - 8 years
Publisher: Capstone Press (February 1, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1491423102
ISBN-13: 978-1491423103

Older children might enjoy reading about Fire Birds by Sneed B. Collard III.

Fire Birds reveals the work of biology professor Dick Hutto, who has been investigating what happens to bird species after a forest fire. He found that some kinds of birds increase in number due to increased nest sites and food. He has come up with a list of 15 species that are closely associated with recently burned forests, which he calls "Fire Birds." Can you guess what they might be?

(This title was previously reviewed at our sister blog, Wrapped in Foil.)

Ages: 8+
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Bucking Horse Books (December 10, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0984446079
ISBN-13: 978-0984446070

Looking for more children's books about birds? Try Taking Flight: a List of Children’s Books About Bird Migration at Science Books for Kids or...

Taking-Flight-childrens-books-about-bird-migration-300x270

...the list of children's books for young birdwatchers at Science Books for Kids

childrens-books-for-young-birdwatchers

You may also want to click the bird activities category here at Growing with Science for more posts relating to birds, as well as our For the Birds Pinterest page.

The Cornell Lab FeederWatch Project has even more educator resources.

We would love to hear if you participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. What kinds of birds do you see in your backyard?

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Disclosure: Fire Birds book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at not extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.