Create a Butterfly Balcony Garden

The best way to invite butterflies to your balcony or patio garden is by creating habitat to encourage them to take up residence. Habitat is simply a place where a living creature can meet all of their needs for food, shelter, water and a place to breed. You can provide for all of these needs in an indigenous plant container garden on your balcony, so that you can enjoy beautiful butterflies even in a tiny outdoor space.

Our most recent display garden gives you plenty of ideas on how to attract butterflies to your own beautiful butterfly balcony garden by using indigenous plants.  Here are some great tips from Linda De Luca and her team at Random Harvest Indigenous Plant Nursery to create the best “invitations” for butterflies to your container garden.

 

Position
Your Balcony or patio needs as much sun as possible (at least half a day). Place your containers in a crescent shape to help shelter the garden from the prevailing wind. This will also make it warmer an important consideration as butterflies are cold-blooded (they are insects) and need warmth to get going in the morning.  They also prefer not to be buffeted around by the wind while they attempt to feed.

Indigenous Plants for a Butterfly Container Garden
Butterflies need nectar plants and caterpillars (the larvae) require species of plants (host plants) to feed on.  Butterflies will only lay their eggs on these plants. Intersperse indigenous nectar and host plants, working from low-growing species in the lower front containers to taller species at the back. These taller species act as a “wind-break”, so place them in their containers, with the back of the crescent facing the direction of the prevailing wind, but make sure that they don’t cast a shadow over the garden. If your space is very limited, you could plant low growing groundcovers and perennials in the same pots as the taller species – just remember to make sure that they receive enough sunshine.
Try to group colourful nectar plants together in bold patches of colour to maximize visibility to butterflies looking for nectar (see our list of suggestions below). You could either plant a few species in one container or put into separate containers depending on their water requirements. Plan your potted garden to include a constant seasonal nectar supply. This benefits the butterflies, and you will reap the reward of seeing butterflies on your balcony or patio all year round.

Over time, you will notice which butterflies breed when, and will be able to anticipate larvae on the host plants at particular times of the year. Below is a table of butterflies that depend on the host plants that we have included in our garden.

Pelargonium species are some of the most rewarding host plants to grow - it took no time at all for this little Geranium Bronze butterfly to find our pot of Pelargonium peltatum. We hadn't even finished putting the garden together and she was already inspecting it for a place to breed!


NECTAR – FOOD FOR BUTTERFLIES
Nectar rich flowers are the food source for adult butterflies.  This will also benefit sunbirds and other nectar-loving birds as well.  Include some of the following in your garden:
Barleria sp.
Dyschoriste sp.,
Pelargonium sp.
Asystasia  gangetica
Euryops pectinatus
Scabiosa spp.
Delosperma echinatum
Mentha longifolia
Plumbago auriculata
Gazania species    

What we may think is a weedy looking area in the garden with lots of flowers and grasses is a smorgasbord of nectar for the butterflies.

HOST PLANTS—FOOD FOR CATERPILLARS
These are just some of the plants we used, that you can include as host plants for the larvae of our most common butterflies:
 

Painted Lady Butterfly

Host Plant: Sorghum bicolor

 

Citrus Swallowtail Butterfly

Host Plant: Clausena anisata

 

Patrician Blue Butterfly

Host Plant: Lantana mearnsii

 

Common Blue Butterfly

Host plant: Plumbago auriculata

 

 Yellow Eyed Pansy Butterfly

 Host Plant:

Asystasia gangetica

Barleria spp.

 

Blue Pansy Butterfly

Host Plant: Asystasia gangetica

 

Common Diadem Butterfly

Host Plant:

Asystasia gangetica

Talinum caffrum

 

Brown Commodore Butterfly (not pictured)

Host Plant: Asystasia gangetica

 

Garden Inspector Butterfly

Host Plant: Plectranthus spp.

 

Gaudy Commodore Butterfly

(Not pictured: Marsh Commodore)

Host Plant: Plectranthus spp.

 

Eyed Pansy Butterfly

Host Plant: Plectranthus spp.

 

Striped Policeman Butterfly

Host Plants:

Croton gratissimus

Schotia brachypetala

 

 Pirate Butterfly

(Not pictured but same host plant = Gaika Blue Butterfly)

Host Plant: Chaetacanthus setiger

 

African Monarch Butterfly

Host plant:

Gomphocarpus fruticosus

Stapelia sp.

 

Twin Spotted Blue Butterfly

Host Plants:

Lantana mearnsii

Salvia spp.

 

 Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth

Host Plant: Cussonia sp.



For butterfly bonus points:
Place some rocks or large pebbles in particularly sunny spots, for butterflies to warm themselves on. They are cold-blooded and need to warm up in the morning before being able to fly.

You could include a “mud-patch” pot, with mineral-rich, muddy soil. Keep it wet, as this makes it easy for the butterflies to take up the nutrients. Check on this regularly to see that it does not dry out and become useless to butterflies.

 

You can include a dish of rotting fruit (particularly bananas) – butterflies are drawn to this too. Replenish it regularly, as the birds are sure to tuck in too.  If your balcony is very small, or you have a problem with ants and flies, it is probably best to leave this treat and concentrate on the plants.

Completely avoid pesticides in the butterfly container garden. Only purchase plants from your nursery that you know have not been sprayed with poisons.

If you decide to make your own butterfly garden in containers, we'd love to hear from you about what species visited or came to live in the garden.

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