Butterfly Gardening with Kids
The fuzzy caterpillar, Curled upon a leaf,
Spun her little chrysalis, And then fell asleep.
While she was sleeping, She dreamed that she could fly,
And later when she woke up, She was a butterfly!
Few insects fascinate like the vibrant yet gentle butterfly. Children in particular love these “flying flowers.” While butterflies appear to dance whimsically through the air, they are purposeful creatures, selective about where they feed, reproduce, experience metamorphosis and migrate. These intriguing insects offer a unique and fun learning experience; parents need only take advantage of kids’ natural curiosity and love of the outdoors to plant a beautiful butterfly garden with their children.
Designing Your Garden
You don’t need a large yard to create a butterfly garden—even a balcony will do if the conditions are right. Because butterflies are cold-blooded, they enjoy basking in the sun to warm themselves. The National Gardening Association (NGA) recommends that a butterfly garden get at least six hours of sun daily. Dark, flat stones in the garden will absorb the sun’s heat and provide a welcome resting place for butterflies to dry their wings and warm their bodies. It’s also important that your garden include shrubs or trees which can provide a windbreak for the butterflies.
Damp soil, sand, or puddles attract butterflies, who need a mineral-rich water source. Visiting these sources is known as “puddling,” and is more common for male butterflies that may use the dissolved salts and minerals to make pheromones and sperm necessary for mating. Kids can help you make your own butterfly puddles: simply bury a bucket or shallow container to the rim, then fill it with sand or gravel, and moisten it with water or sweet drinks.
Choosing Your Plants
Butterfly gardens need both nectar and host plants to be successful. “Nectar plants have a sweet, sugary liquid in the flower,” says Amy Gifford, an education associate for NGA. “These plants draw butterflies into the garden and are attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies because the nectar supplies the energy they need to fly.”
The NGA recommends planting groups of same-color nectar plants since butterflies are attracted to masses of fragrance and color. Choose a variety of plants to maintain blooming all season, but particularly in mid to late summer, when most butterflies are active.
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