Nothing says “spring” like seeing those first springtime butterflies in our gardens. Learn which ones you’ll see first and what you can do to not only attract them but sustain them when it seems so early in the season.
8 Tips for Attracting the First Springtime Butterflies
Following these tips to attract springtime butterflies will make your area helpful to all beneficial insects. This includes the native bees that are in desperate need of our help.
And in helping pollinators in the spring, you are not only helping them year-round, but it’s a ripple effect for wildlife and nature as a whole.
1. What are the first springtime butterflies?
First, know that butterflies need it to be around 60 degrees to fly, as their body temperature reflects the temperature outside. Basically, they are cold-blooded.
This is why you’ll often see them sunning themselves on rocks or other flat areas, especially on cooler days.
And while it varies with the area you live in, I usually see these varieties first.
Eastern Commas and Question Marks aren’t just paired together for their obvious grammatical names, but they are both members of the Brushfooted butterfly family, and both overwinter as adults. Early spring, they lay eggs on nettles, elms, willows, and currants.
Spring Azures are small lighter blue springtime butterflies that overwinter as a chrysalis and emerge as adults. Their host plants include New Jersey Tea, viburnums, and dogwoods.
Cabbage Whites also overwinter in their chrysalis and emerge early in spring. They are seen almost everywhere and are familiar to most. They have various host plants from leafy vegetables to certain “weeds.”
Mourning Cloaks overwinter as butterflies and fly as soon as the warmer weather hits. You can see them almost anywhere their host plants grow, which includes poplar, cottonwood, willow, elm, birch, Hawthorne, and mulberry.
2. Provide nourishment
Early in spring, it seems there is barely a flower to be seen. But while we wonder what springtime butterflies eat, they indeed do find nourishment.
Often it’s in wildflowers or “weeds” such as dandelions, and other times it’s from the flowering trees such as redbuds. They will also dine on rotten fruit on the ground from fruit trees.
We can play a considerable role in survival for these early butterflies and other pollinators by providing early nectar-rich flowers.
Flowers to include are these early spring bloomers.
- Lungwort, aka Pulmonaria, is a perennial that flowers in late winter or very early spring. Some flower as early as late February! Bees and night moths especially love these blooms, but springtime butterflies will appreciate it also.
- Early spring bulbs like grape hyacinth, crocuses, bluebells, and daffodils will be a welcoming meal for butterflies, bees, and other pollinators alike. They will appreciate these sweet nectar sources when not much else is blooming yet.
- Snowdrops are classified as a spring bulb, but it deserves a special mention as it’s one of the earliest flowers to bloom. It even flowers before daffodils and bluebells! This is vital for springtime butterflies and bees.
- Rock Cress is a pretty herbaceous perennial that will bloom from April to June. The fragrant flowers attract springtime butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. They are a great ground cover and do well in rock gardens or borders as well.
Keep in mind that any beneficial flowering plant you buy or grow can be put outside early for springtime butterflies and bees. If it’s still cold at night, I bring it inside till mid-morning.
3. Don’t destroy wildflowers
Please don’t mow, cut down, or eliminate any wildflowers! Unfortunately, many people also refer to these early wildflowers as “weeds,” and really, that is sad.
For many of these “weeds” will provide vital nourishment for our earliest butterflies and bees!
Mowing or otherwise destroying any wildflowers is a death sentence to pollinators. And even though we don’t always see the small flowers, they are there. Some grow very low to the ground, so please leave them!
If anything, I say add more to your yard or start a wildflower patch! If you have the room, it would be very beneficial to wildlife to turn some grass into wildflowers.
More beauty for you, less to mow, and very beneficial to pollinators, especially late-summer and springtime butterflies and bees!
4. Put out fruit or sugar water
Even though we may not see any nectar sources, butterflies usually find all they need on their own.
Still, they might appreciate a little help if resources are scarce.
It’s not a rarity to see some species of butterflies or moths on a sugar-water feeder, and some slices of banana and orange may be appreciated as well.
Actually, butterflies can enjoy this all season long, but they will obviously appreciate it in early spring if they’re hungry!
5. Plant more trees
Surprisingly, Eastern Commas and Mourning Cloaks prefer tree sap over flowers. And in late winter, the sap is running!
Springtime butterflies will eat the rotten fruit on the ground from fruit trees and enjoy the flowers from them, redbuds, and other early blooming trees.
They also appreciate trees for the shelter they provide from the weather and may use them for roosting or sunbathing.
Trees are all-around beneficial for all of the wildlife!
6. Leave the leaves!
Many of us know that leaving the leaves in the fall is beneficial for butterflies (in all forms!) and other beneficial insects that overwinter.
It’s also good for the ground and your flower beds!
But did you also know that clearing out your fallen leaves too early in spring can be harmful to springtime butterflies and other pollinators?
They may search for and use those leaves for protection and warmth when the temperatures drop or at night.
So the longer you leave the leaves in the spring, the better. To be honest, I just leave them and let them decompose on their own. It makes my ground healthier and my soil a much better quality.
7. No pesticides – ever!
I really can not stress this enough – no pesticides or chemicals of any kind on your property!
Look, I get it, I’ve been there. You have a pest infestation or are honestly brain-washed by how grandma or mom did it that you just automatically grab for pesticides, powders, weed and feeds, and so on.
If you could see the damage and harm it causes on a cellular level, I can guarantee you’d never look at it again.
It will not only kill everything you deem bad but will kill all the good, too, including the very springtime butterflies you’re trying to attract!
It will have an awful trickle effect, and pretty soon, you’ll barely have anything natural at all in your yard.
You’ll see fewer pollinators, fewer birds, and an increase in pest infestations and plant diseases. GUARANTEED.
Allowing your yard to return to natural and trusting the process of nature will DO WONDERS for all.
You’ll notice the birds coming back, see more butterflies and other pollinators, and have fewer pests and diseases.
It’s AMAZING to me how nature just takes care of itself. If you DO need to remove something invasive, you can do it naturally.
Chemicals of ANY kind honestly wreak complete havoc on any yard or landscape. Not to mention the harm it will cause for your pets and children.
Tips to go natural:
- Give your yard a year to adjust
- Temporarily remove any plants that are diseased or infested
- Double-check all plants’ needs to make sure they are in the right area
- Use Palmolive dish soap SPARINGLY and infrequently if needed
- Plant flowers to attract beneficial insects
- Set up bird feeders to attract birds (who will take care of pests)
- Add soil amendments for healthy soil (fewer pests and diseases!)
- Realize that you MUST have insects for a healthy yard
When I cut out all the chemicals, I’d say it took about a year or so for everything to balance itself back out. Now I hardly ever have a problem, and I have so much nature in my area!
8. Leave the woodpile
You may have a pile of wood that you never used for your fireplace or wood stove, or maybe you plan to use it for a bonfire.
It’s tempting to want to move it or burn it when you have spring cleaning fever, but please leave it as long as you can in the spring!
They can find a hiding spot in a woodpile very easily and could be resting just under the loose bark.
Leaving the woodpile will save and help so many beneficial insects and springtime butterflies! 🙂
I do hope some of these tips will help you attract your own springtime butterflies! What other early flyers do you see? Please drop a comment below; I’d love to hear! 🙂