Create Your Own Butterfly Garden to Serve Arlington Pollinators
By Danica Dodson, Arlington Parks & Recreation
Posted on August 18, 2020, August 18, 2020

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In recent years, Arlington’s city leaders have strived to create an inviting environment for pollinators. With more than 20 Monarch Butterfly waystations throughout the parks system, the city’s pollinator population has grown and thrived now more than ever. In addition to these efforts, Arlington citizens can also take personal steps to serve local pollinators in their own backyards. APRD’s Urban Forestry Land Manager, Wendy Pappas, provides this helpful advice on how to create your own butterfly garden that will help a variety of pollen-collecting insects while also bringing beauty to your garden!

Location is Key

The first step to building a successful butterfly garden is deciding on the perfect location. Most plants that attract butterflies will need at least 6 hours of sun each day, so you’ll want to survey your yard during daylight hours and note which areas receive enough sun. Building a butterfly garden in a shady area could be detrimental to your plants.

When considering location, you will also want to think about how you will water your plants. Make sure your garden will be easily accessible so you can water regularly, in addition to what the plants would normally receive during rain.

Size and Soil

Once you decide on a location, the next step is to determine what size of garden you’d like and prepare the soil in that area. It’s important to be aware of which type of native soil you have in your yard. Most plants do best when planted in native soil, but if your native soil is very rocky or has high clay content, it may not give you the most desired results. If necessary, you can consider creating a raised bed so you have complete control of the soil type.

To prepare the area, begin by removing all turf grass where you’d like to incorporate your butterfly garden. You can remove grass by digging it up, or if you aren’t in a rush you can place black plastic over the grass for around a month, which will kill the grass for easy removal. After the grass is removed, till the soil and consider adding in some organic matter like compost.

Choosing Plants

Now that the prep work is done, it’s time to decide which beautiful blooms you want to incorporate into your garden.Your choice will depend on which types of butterflies you want to attract. Be sure to include plants that butterfly larvae will feed on, as well as nectar-producing plants. If you would like to attract Monarch butterflies, you will need to plant milkweed along with nectar plants, as Monarch caterpillars only feed on milkweed.

Other ideal options for feeding butterfly larvae include dill, fennel, parsley, passion vine, and even some trees, such as willows.

To determine what various butterfly larvae enjoy feeding on, you can find a helpful guide here.

There is a wide variety of nectar plants you u/bflyplnt.htmcould incorporate, but it’s always best to go with plants that are native to your area. Some popular butterfly garden plants include Greggs salvia, purple coneflower, phlox, plains zinnia, rock rose, and coreopsis. Most plants with bright, attractive flowers will fall into the category of nectar-producing plants.

Additional Elements

Aside from pretty flowers, no butterfly garden is complete without some additional elements that allow your butterflies to prosper. Butterflies need a place to dry their wings after it rains, and you can provide them this element by incorporating rocks into your garden. Rocks are an affordable and aesthetically pleasing option, and the butterflies will appreciate having a surface to sit on when they aren’t collecting pollen.

Butterflies also need drinking water, as they cannot drink from open water sources like streams or rivers. These pollinators will appreciate an element with some type of perch where they can land and drink water. A birdbath is a great option for providing them sitting room and fresh water, and it looks beautiful in your garden as well.

Now that you’ve planned your space and picked out your plants and other elements, the last step is to add it all together! A final tip would be to mulch your plants with about 3 inches of mulch once everything is in place. This will help prevent weed seeds from germinating near your garden, and will also help retain moisture in your soil.

We hope these tips help you create a beautiful butterfly garden in your yard! This is an easy project to spruce up your landscape, and it is also extremely beneficial to the ecosystem and our local pollinators. The butterflies will thank you!

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