You don’t need a large yard to provide the basics for a butterfly garden. All they need are nectar plants, larval host plants, resting areas, sun and water. You can find the butterflies that live in Seattle and the greater Washington area by clicking butterflies to watch in our area. The The Butterfly Site also has a listing with information on Butterflies you will find in Seattle and Washington. You do need to have a general understanding of the life cycle stages so that you have a selection of plants that provide a food source for each stage.
Caterpillars, the voracious larvae of butterflies, must also have food. Plants that provide caterpillars food include alfalfa, anise, clover, fennel, hollyhock, mallow, lupine, milkweed, nasturtium, snapdragon, sunflower, violet, cottonwood, poplar, willow, oak and horse chestnut. In particular, Western tiger swallowtail caterpillars love alder, cherry, elm, maple, poplar and willows. Anise swallowtail larvae love members of the parsley family such as fennel, dill and cow parsnip. Nettles and hops are favorites of the red admiral. And painted lady caterpillars love borage, burdock and centaurea. More information on host plants for this stage from The Washington Butterfly Association.
Grow nectar plants for butterflies in anything from window boxes to wildflower meadows. Nectar-rich wildflowers include aster, bleeding heart, butterfly weed (Asclepias or milkweed), clarkia, columbine, coreopsis, goldenrod, Indian paintbrush, iris, larkspur, lupine, nettle, owl clover, sedum, thistle and yarrow. More information on host plants for this stage from The Washington Butterfly Association. Non-native flowers including bee balm, dahlias, cosmos, dianthus, day lilies, geraniums, heliotrope, impatiens, lavender, marigolds, shasta daisy, snapdragon, statice, sweet alyssum, sweet pea, sweet william, zinnias and many members of the mint family are also great nectar sources for butterflies.
Flowering trees and shrubs including manzanita, ceanothus, rhododendron, elderberry, wild roses, red flowering current, butterfly bush (Buddleia) twin berry ,Oregon honeysuckle, Piper’s willow and snowberry also provide nectar for butterflies. For resting and sunning, shrubs provide a safe place out of the wind for butterflies. Rocks placed in the sun or sunny bare patches out of the way of foot traffic are also great resting spots.
The best way to provide drinking water is to have some wet mud somewhere in the yard where butterflies can land safely and sip. If you provide a water source it needs to be shallow so they can wade around the edges. You can also mist your plants early in the morning and they will sip from the water droplets.
Above all avoid the indiscriminate use of pesticides in the yard. Butterflies have become increasingly uncommon in urban and suburban areas because of pesticides and habitat loss.
I suggest beginning this venture by watching butterflies in a natural setting. Warren G Magnuson Park Butterfly Garden is a good starting point. It was designed by Northwest Montessori School students and is part of the rehabilitation of Promontory Point, in the southeastern part of the park as a northwest native plant sanctuary. The park is at 7400 Sand Point Way NE and a map is available by clicking Warren G Magnuson Park Butterfly Garden. The Washington Butterfly Association Gardens are available by clicking Seattle Butterfly gardens.