Butterfly Garden Essentials

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Make the most of your time in the garden! Gather your students to watch and record the metamorphosis of butterflies with our Butterfly Bundle


To create your own butterfly garden and help young minds grow, SAVE 20% through the month of July at GardeningWithKids.org using coupon code KGNPOLLINATOR20.

Please note, offer excludes sheds and greenhouses.

Observe the lifecycle of the butterfly with your own Painted Lady Caterpillars.Observe the lifecycle of the butterfly with your own Painted Lady Caterpillars.

Welcome Caterpillars and Butterflies to your Schoolyard

Growing plants that attract butterflies is a sure-fire way of engaging youth in the school garden because it invites discoveries about pollination, insect life cycles, and the interdependence of insects and plants. The first step to understanding butterflies is learning about the different stages of their life cycle.

From Egg to Butterfly: Exploring the Life Cycle

The cycle begins when adult butterflies lay eggs on a "host" plant. Some butterflies will only lay their eggs on a single type of plant, such as monarchs, a pollinator that has a preference for milkweed. Others have several choices. In about five to ten days, the egg hatches and the tiny caterpillar eats the host plant, shedding its skin four to six times as it grows.

After two to four weeks, full grown larva, or caterpillar, attaches itself to a twig, plant or generally a sheltered, safe location to transform into a pupa. The body changes during this inactive stage, and ten to fifteen days later the adult butterfly emerges. During this stage much of body breaks down to a cellular level and regroups into a different shape. This process, called metamorphosis, means "change of form."

Inflatable Butterfly Life CyclesInflatable Butterfly Life Cycles

Adult butterflies feed on nectar from flowers (and in doing so, inadvertently pollinate some) while the larvae feed mostly on the foliage of plants. Ideally, a butterfly garden should contain or be located near a range of plants that will feed the butterfly at both stages.

Using a visual aid such as the Inflatable Butterfly Life Cycles can greatly assist in developing a strong understanding about metamorphosis as they provide students with realistic, detailed examples of each stage of the butterfly lifecycle. Additional resources to further develop an understanding of butterflies are listed below.

Planning a Butterfly Garden

You need only a small garden bed at your school to create an inviting oasis for butterflies. Both butterflies and plants like sun so plan your garden with a southern exposure or in a site that gets at least six hours of sun each day. Choose a site that is sheltered from winds to keep plants from blowing over and allows your butterflies to feed, mate, and lay eggs in relative tranquility. Here are other features for you and your students to include:

Butterfly FeederButterfly Feeder 1.  Install a Butterfly Feeder to demonstrate how butterflies feed from flower blossoms. The feeder includes wicks and tubes to mimic flower blossom as well as a recipe for nectar, an important source of food for adult butterflies.
Butterfly Garden Seed CollectionButterfly Garden Seed Collection 2. Butterflies are attracted to brightly colored, sweet-smelling flowers that allow them easy access to nectar. Check out ourButterfly Garden Seed Collection for a variety perennial and annual flowers. Some of the preferred, easy-to-grow nectar plants are: aster, black-eyed Susan,butterfly bush, butterfly weed, cosmos, goldenrod, lantana, lavender, liatris, marigold, purple coneflower, and zinnia.
Swallowtail CaterpillarSwallowtail Caterpillar 3. Host plants are those preferred by butterfly larvae (caterpillars). They are usually wildflowers, shrubs, and trees native to the area. Some of the primary plants for butterfly larvae include: aspen, alfalfa, clover, nettle, pearly everlasting, milkweed, grasses, hackberry, parsley, vetch, and willow. Although the caterpillars of some butterflies are considered vegetable garden pests, you should never use pesticides--even biological ones--in a butterfly garden or you'll destroy your intended guests.
Butterfly BirdbathButterfly Birdbath 4. Puddles or other shallow water sources are important, primarily for male butterflies, more as a source of salt and amino acids than as a water source. If you have no naturally occurring puddles, try sinking a shallow container, like our Butterfly Birdbath, and fill it with moist sand, dirt, and/or stones into the ground. Keep it moist and watch for large congregations of butterflies.
Mosaic Butterfly Stepping Stone KitMosaic Butterfly Stepping Stone Kit 5. Add stones to personalize the garden space. Stones help to designate places that are okay to step when watering or weeding and add a personal touch. Try creating your own with the Mosaic Butterfly Stepping Stone Kit. For an added math lesson, try placing stones in a symmetrical pattern that mimics the pattern on butterfly wings . Use dark stones in your garden to provide a warm spot where adult butterflies can bask in the sun and warm their bodies for flying.

Butterflies are the perfect garden insects to study at any age. Their habitats, wing patterns, and life cycles provide learning opportunities for youth ranging from sequencing and patterns to environmental studies and migration. In just six to eight weeks, these beautiful creatures demonstrate the process of metamorphosis giving us the opportunity to observe their life cycle from youth to adult.

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Last updated on 10/22/2014
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