If you want butterflies, garden for caterpillars

monarch caterpillar
Monarch caterpillar. Photo courtesy Ansel Oommen, Bugwood.org

If you want butterflies to stick around your garden longer, it’s not enough to think about gardening for butterflies. You need to think about gardening for caterpillars, too, said David O’Donnell of Eastern Monarch Butterfly Farm.

You can find his article and more in the Spring 2019 edition of the Pollinator magazine. It is published by the Pollinator Conservation Association, which is based in Western New York.

Butterflies have a mission, O’Donnell explained. In addition to keeping themselves nourished by getting nectar from flowers, they need to locate a habitat for their larvae—the caterpillars.  

If you provide everything they need all in one place, it will increase the likelihood of keeping your guests around longer.  

Plants for caterpillars include:

  • Milkweed
  • Goldenrod
  • Native thistle
  • Stinging nettle
  • Clover
  • Pussy willow
  • Wild violets
  • Wild ginger
  • Ironweed
  • Joe-pye weed
  • Parsley
  • Dill
  • Fennel

Trees and shrubs for caterpillars include:

  • Wild cherry
  • Willow
  • White oak
  • Poplar
  • Tulip trees
  • Sassafras
  • Spicebush
  • Ninebark
  • Serviceberry

You may not even have to run to the garden center to get some of these plants. If you look around your property, some of the native plants may already be there, he said. Learn to identify native plants so that you can protect them.

See more details and read other articles in the Spring 2019 Pollinator.

You can get on the email list for the Pollinator. Send your request to greenwatch100@gmail.com.

2 Comments on “If you want butterflies, garden for caterpillars

  1. I live in Alden NY. I have so many black fuzzy caterpillars they are eating my plants to death. They are everywhere trees, plants, fences, etc.. They are very destructive. I don’t want to try to eliminate they if they are a good butterfly. Is anyone else have a problem with them. Let me know your solution. Thank you

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