Posted in Healthy Home & Garden on July 29, 2012. Last modified on April 30, 2019. Read disclaimer.
Gardening is a wonderful way to get heart-healthy exercise while relieving stress -- and butterflies are a welcome addition to any garden. It is estimated that there are more than 700 species of butterflies in North America, and probably more than 170 in the Carolinas. These "flying flowers" add color, activity and joy to even the smallest garden area. The following tips should help you attract them into you own landscape.
How attract butterflies to your yard and garden
A butterfly's habitat needs will change with each of its life stages: 1) host plants for laying their eggs and chrysalises, 2) food sources for caterpillars, and 3) nectaring flowers for adults. In general, however, the following considerations are important for providing a complete butterfly habitat:
Butterflies are cold-blooded and need heat from sunlight to warm them, especially in the morning. Select a site with at least a half day of sun. Basking stones, boards or flat rocks for sunning are also appreciated. Most of the flowers that butterflies visit bloom best in full sun.
2. Nectar plants
Butterflies feed on the nectar of certain types of flowers. Plants with large clusters of small flowers are preferred because the butterfly can easily walk from flower to flower, sipping nectar. Fragrant and brightly colored flowers are also favored.
3. Large groupings
A large group of one type of flower will be more easily spotted by butterflies and will hold their attention rather than scattered plants.
4. Continuous bloom
Select enough different species or varieties of flowers to ensure something will be in bloom from spring through fall. The variety attracts more species of butterflies and keeps them around the reliable food supply.
5. Larval food
The larvae, or caterpillars, of butterflies feed on specific plants (many of which are listed below under Larva Host Plants). The caterpillars of Eastern Black Swallowtail feed on plants in the carrot family parsley, dill, carrot. Monarch larvae feed on members of the milkweed family.
Just like other animals, butterflies need water too. But a birdbath is too deep for butterflies since they cannot drink from open water. Butterflies prefer to drink from damp areas such as shallow pools, mud puddles or wet sand.
7. Avoid pesticides
Do not use insecticides in or near your butterfly garden. Soaps and oils may be used to control small insects such as aphids and spider mites as long as there are no butterfly eggs or small caterpillars on the plants.
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Flowers that attract butterflies
PerennialsAllium (Allium spp.)
Bee Balm (Monarda spp.)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.)
Blazing Star (Uatris spp.)
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberose)
Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.)
Daisies (Chrysanthemum spp.)
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
Ironweed (Vernonia spp.)
Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Milkweed (Asclepias spp.)
New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae)
Phlox (Phlox spp.)
Queen Anne's Lace (Oaucus carota)
Salvia (Salvia spp.)
Sedum (Sedum spp.)
Sweet William (Dianthus spp.)
Yarrow (Achillea spp.)
AnnualsAnnual Butterfly Weed
Vinca (Madagascar periwinkle)
Blue Mist Shrub
Larva Host PlantsAster
Queen Anne's Lace
Additional Information is available from:
Carolina Butterfly Society, 4209 Bramlet Place, Greensboro, NC 27407
North American Butterfly Association
North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Tips for Attracting Butterflies
I guess you can just try to make yourself familiar with the specific, problematic caterpillars from the photos at sites like https://garden.org/learn/library/pests/
Otherwise, there are safe caterpillar control options like cloth covers, hoop houses and organic caterpillar-control products, but i assume these methods probably impact beneficial caterpillars just as much as the "pesky" ones you referred to.
It is interesting that you mentioned "beneficial butterflies" and "pesky moths." I don't know if one is necessarily "good" and the other is usually "bad" but do you know the best way to tell the difference? Moths normally have fuzzy or feathery antennae while butterflies have long, club-shaped antennae. Read more interesting facts about moths and butterflies.