For a warm-weather project that can get your family working and learning together — and also help some beautiful insects — try a backyard butterfly garden.
With a little planning, you can create a welcoming habitat for butterflies through the warm-weather months, says Rick Mikula, author of “The Family Butterfly Book.”
The biggest problem facing butterflies is that where they like to live is being destroyed, Mikula says. Even if your garden offers just a few butterfly-friendly blooms in pots, it can help the insects’ population — and improve the look of your living space.
“Any offering for butterflies in a garden, no matter how small, is like chicken soup for a cold,” he says. “It can’t hurt.”
Simple flowers such as varieties of echinacea, daisies, asters and even some violets can serve as butterfly-friendly snacking spots.
“Even one or two plants like that are going to be great because when the butterflies are moving, there’s a place for them to stop,” says Mikula, who lives in Pennsylvania.
But if you really want to have butterflies in your garden, there are some things you’ll have to get used to — like caterpillars.
Caterpillars, which are butterflies’ offspring, like to eat plants. They may eat the herbs and vegetables that you’ve planted with the hope that they would one day be your dinner. Plant extra to feed the caterpillars, and remember you’ll be rewarded when caterpillars turn into butterflies.
Also, stop using pesticides on vegetable gardens or lawns.
There are other things that a butterfly garden should include, including rocks for butterflies to sun themselves on. Before you laugh, it’s true. Butterflies like to sunbathe, so putting a flat rock near flowers will give them a place to rest after a meal.
While butterflies can get most of the moisture they need from feeding, many like to gather around puddles and wet places. You can offer a “puddling station” by creating a damp area of ground covered with sand.
Beyond the “sheer joy” you get when finding a butterfly in your garden, Mikula says, butterfly gardening also can teach families about the life cycle of insects, and about caring for plants and their environment.
The best part, he says, is that you will be doing the beautiful insects “a world of good.”
Don’t be disappointed if you don’t draw a lot of butterflies right away. Keep at it, and try to get neighbors to grow a few plants that will encourage butterfly activity too.