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Wildlife Gardening

Wildlife gardening can include a weed garden, native flower garden, prairie gardens or meadow gardens. These (somewhat) interchangeable terms mean gardeners creating a casually free-flowing natural environment designed to mimic a mountainside or prairie. Wildlife gardens also help sustain local wildlife, which includes butterflies.

Bachelor Button Flowers by Pink Poppy Photography
With these unconventional garden types some feel these wildlife environments should consist of one-hundred percent native plants and flowers.

The other extreme is fearful neighbors concerned about unmanicured weed growth. It's actually somewhere between the two:

  • Combining planted wildflowers along with flowering weeds.
  • Having to kill weeds that are not wanted and deadheading, as with any conventional types of gardens.

The developing stages will require more work. Once the garden becomes established work begins to taper off. Keep in mind though, indigenous plant life has benefits for any garden and provides the best food and shelter for native wildlife.

  • Some weeds help in difficult soils and terrain areas helping avoid run-off.
  • Well manicured areas promote natural garden pesticides.
  • Native weeds require less maintenance so it benefits you to learn the 'good' weeds.
  • Native plants require less water. Any weed garden, prairie or meadow gardens have adapted to be drought resistant and survive in almost all soil types.
  • Native plants attract native pollinators.
  • Native plants are less likely to become invasive.
  • Native plants have adapted to the soil so require no fertilizer.
  • The above saves money.

First, assess area along with the resources for a wildlife and weed garden. Consider climate, terrain and local plant life and choose the natural garden style that will work with your space. For example, if you live in a dry, southwestern environment you won't be able to develop a tropical garden. A prairie style garden would be better suited to your local environment.

The goal with wildlife gardening is to have open, sunny areas where vegetation will get at least five hours of sun daily. This allows for flower growth and butterflies to bask. Have brush piles and rock piles for butterfly larva, butterfly pupa and butterflies that over-winter.

Then as with conventional gardens, start digging! Exterminate the bad and noxious weeds. If using herbicides and pesticides consider their effects.

Don't randomly place flowers around. Focus on the idea of 3 square foot areas - be creative. For informal, less structured gardens round the blockings out, have a running line along a border like a fence.

The reason for this is depending on the species, butterflies will fly an average of one mile for food and shelter, but there are those that will fly hundreds of miles. Different butterfly species are attracted to color, others are attracted to flower scents. Clusters help the butterfly identify their needs. Flowers also have ultraviolet markings helping the butterfly and other flying insects to see them. Once butterflies have arrived, clusters also allow butterflies to float from flower to flower feeding easily.

When wildlife gardening for butterflies and other pollinators, studies have shown that it is good to have about 10 plant species that attract them. More plant types will attract even more pollinators, but begins to level out at about 20 plants.

Different types of plants and flowers that are found in your native plant community assembled in groupings also resist pests, diseases and other kinds of weed epidemics. Avoid over-growing areas. They can become matted and then possibly invite unwanted guests.


  • What's the difference in a prairie and meadow garden?
    For wildlife gardening purposes the terms are interchangeable, otherwise...

    Prairie's are a stable and functional ecosystem that perpetuates through consistent fire and animal grazing.

    Meadow's are transitional. They have experienced some kind of trauma like a fire, flood, pest or disease that will kill everything leaving an open, bare area. Within years native vegetation grows back but the meadow will likely suffer another trauma in time.

  • Before building any wildlife or weed garden it is important to note that although funding is available through private and government resources, these are usually for non-profits and educational institutions to develop public sites. Private properties considering serious wildlife gardening, especially a weed garden it is recommended consulting local jurisdictions. Local governments feel that these garden types can be a risk where non-native, aggressive plants could be introduced causing issues for the community.

  • Never pick or uproot anything from a local or national park system. It is becoming a common practice to bring in non-native vegetation. Park services control vegetation on a larger scale, such as burning weeds when these get out of control. If you should plant them on your property there could be serious consequences.

Related Articles:

Exotic Butterfly -
More understanding of the consequences of invasive.

Weeds -
A list of the weeds that shouldn't be in any garden.

Weed Garden -
Weeds that are suitable for weed and wildlife gardens.

Butterfly Anatomy -
Why butterflies see ultraviolet and polarized light.

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