Creating Butterfly-friendly Gardens Begins Now

Where do butterflies go in the winter? It’s surprising how few gardeners consider this, and it is the cornerstone of sound gardening for Lepidoptera.
Each species has a particular way of surviving winter.  Several overwinter as adult butterflies. Yes, even in the frigid north, species survive sheltered in wood crevasses or in an outbuilding. Many species survive as a chrysalis hanging from a stalk or branch. Still others survive as a caterpillar; others overwinter in fallen leaves or as eggs, poised to emerge and feed on young growth. Almost a third of Midwestern butterfly species are colonists and migrants, and do not survive the winter.

What this means is that garden maintenance underlies butterfly friendly landscapes. So don’t rake up all the leaves, cut off all stems or clear the brush pile because a lot of butterflies will die. You may apply pesticides, thinking you are not hitting a butterfly, but you may be impacting its unseen eggs, caterpillar or chrysalis.

Come spring, provide the host plant, and the butterflies will find you and colonize. Adults need nectar to survive, so plant nectar-rich flowers. If you plant and maintain properly, butterflies will come and certainly enrich your landscape.

—Edited from Native Plants of the Midwest: A Comprehensive Guide to the Best 500 Species for the Garden by Alan Branhagen.