{Food & Gardening} Gardening for Insects

I am happy to see a trend to rethink our lawns. A few years ago we started rethinking our lawn, and I started planting garden beds just for insects. Our family has since been richly rewarded with more successful vegetable gardens and beautiful creatures to admire. These gardens have also shown our children (and reminded us) the importance our food chain and how intricately the circle of life works.

source: be proof, do, and exist 

One of the easiest ways to get involved with insect gardening is through butterflies and bees, and both are in need of serious help!

Butterfly Gardens

Who doesn’t love pretty butterflies in their garden?! Yet butterflies are more than attractive. Searching for nectar they help pollinate plants and ensure seeds for future generations. They are part of the food chain, serving as prey for many birds and small mammals. Vast amounts of their habitat have been taken for human development and many species are on the decline.

If you are wanting to garden for butterflies, understand that in their larvae stage they will devour your beautiful plants, but don’t worry the plants will rebound rather quickly! Many times I have seen milkweed eaten down to the bare stems and within no time it was full of blooms and leaves again.

Zinnia in our backyard.

Food for Butterflies.

Food in the garden comes in the form of host plants. Plants provide a place for butterflies to lay their eggs, their larvae to eat leaves, and adults to drink nectar. You should plant nectar sources in sites protected from wind. This helps butterflies fly and forage in the garden with less effort.

Milkweed, Thistle, Fennel, Blanket Flower, False Nettle, and Zinnia are some top choices for attracting an array of butterflies to your garden. Before you start planting beautiful flowers, you should research what species of butterflies frequent your part of the world, and then see what their life cycle involves and what they like to eat.

Monarch Caterpillars in our backyard.

Monarch butterflies are most popular in our southern garden. We have a sweet spot for them since they are in trouble. Monarchs are starving and it is crucial that we restore the milkweed populations. The first year we planted one milkweed plant, we had more than a dozen caterpillars trying to survive off of it. This year we have eight large plants and they are all full of caterpillars at the moment! MonarchWatch.Org is a great resource if Monarchs inhabit your area.

Water for Butterflies

Water for butterflies should be provided in the form of a puddle in a sunny area near the garden. Containers could be an old dish or platter buried in the ground. Fill the container with sand, and place a few rocks and twigs in the sand to provide landing sites. Then fill the container with water to the level of the sand. Such puddles are sought out by butterflies, not bird baths, ponds, or large water features. It is safer for them to drink in small isolated puddles, than with the creatures that may want to eat them.

Shelter for Butterflies

Overwintering butterflies need shelter. Since species may overwinter in any of the four stages, a variety of cover is needed. Butterflies in the adult stage may use old fences, peeling bark on trees, and perennial plants for shelter. Old sheds or barns also provide shelter for overwintering pupae.


Bees on a French farm, fine print by French Country Life, an EcoEtsy shop

Bee Gardening

Who doesn’t love the hum and dance of bees in the garden?! Bees are in trouble though. They are disappearing. This doesn’t just mean more expensive honey, this means the bees that are the primary pollinators for human and animal food chains are dying and we’re all in trouble.  While scientists are trying to get a handle on the situation, and humans are learning they can’t use chemicals on nature, we can all assist honeybee and natural bee populations close to our homes!

Food for the Bees.

It is said that bees like blue and purple flowers the best. They love the jasmine and marigolds in our garden. Different flowers attract different species of bees. Again, research what species frequent your area and select flowering varieties to help their populations. Select single flower tops when you can, like marigolds and daisies. Double flower tops are pretty, but produce less nectar and aren’t as easy to access. Vegetable gardeners can let their crops bolt (or go to seed) to help the bees as well.

Water for the Bees.

In the summer, bees spend a lot of time collecting water to cool their hives. We can help by leaving a cup or bowl of water in our yard. Yep, it’s that simple. Bees like butterflies tend to drink from swallow isolated pools.

Shelter for Bees.

Different species live in a variety of places, from dead trees to burrows in the ground. Bees, unlike other insects, do great in manmade shelters. Below is a shelter from one of our EcoEtsy shops, Andrew’s Reclaimed, who makes beehives for mason and leafcutter bees from reclaimed wood.

You can also help the bees in your area by buying local honey!!!

Other important insect gardening tips that apply to both butterflies & bees:

  • Only use natural pesticides and fertilizers. Avoid using chemicals in the garden. Not only are they toxic to insects, but are best not introduced to children or adults in the garden. Ladybugs, spiders, and praying mantises will naturally keep pest populations in check.
  • You should also make sure you have a full succession of blooms providing nectar throughout the seasons.
  • Buy organic varieties of seeds & plants whenever possible.
  • Don’t deadhead your flowers. Not only will they provide more nectar, they will also provide seeds for birds in the winter.
  • Let nature take its course. A great insect garden isn’t groomed and manicured.

Happy Gardening!
Thanks, Bee
Backyard FL Gardening

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  1. Wonderful article Bee! This is full of fantastic advice on organic gardening and how it can help important insects like butterflies and bees. What I like to call a win/win. :) Like you said, nature knows what to do. All we need to do is provide what nature needs and it will take care of the rest.

  2. Dave Shroomer says:

    The little buggers eat 1/4 of my garden now . I might as well plant something we can both enjoy . Great pics , Bee.

  3. LOVE your photos from your backyard!

    I have butterflies in my garden that I love to sit and watch. Bees frequently buzz over my head (and near the mailbox where they decided to build a hive. Yikes!) and I am so glad that my HOA use insect-friendly chemicals.

    Great post Bee! – pun intended 😉

  4. There are so many beneficial insects in the garden – Thanks so much for the tips on caring for them!

    • There are so many good bugs. Nature does a good job of keeping itself in check when we don’t mess with it. I could have written another thousand words, but wanted to try to keep it easy & simple. Maybe I can discuss ladybugs and mantis another day or something?! :) Thanks!

  5. i would love to convert part of my large, sunny front yard into a veggie garden, but my hubby forbids it :( our backyard is damp, partly shaded and has a large septic system, so planting most things is out of the question. i’m thinking of sneaking veggies into my flower beds that surround our house. maybe that would be a good way to try to convince him!

    • Start with carrots then! They will keep hidden and you will look like a pro when you pull up the colorful veggies. :) And if you have flower beds Lynn, then at least you are gardening for the insects too!

  6. Where did you find the milkweed plant? I would love to plant some. I do have butterflies and lots of the neighbors honeybees in my garden and they are such wonderful company.
    Great post and lovely pictures!

  7. Thanks for the post! This could explain why a few of my zinnias are seriously eaten up! I have a pretty bright green caterpillar sitting on my parsley plant, but it doesn’t seem to be doing anything, and hasn’t for days, so I don’t know if it is the culprit…

    • My experience with bright green caterpillars is they grow up to be moths, but still important to our food chain. :) An array of butterflies eat Zinnia in their larval stage, so try to find the little creatures hiding under the leaves. Thanks Kate!

  8. Great article! Awareness of what is going on is half the battle for people to pay attention. So much about these little guys is misunderstood.