Creating a thriving butterfly habitat at home may help alleviate habitat loss 
Culture, Environment, Virginia

Creating a thriving butterfly habitat at home may help alleviate habitat loss 

Crystal Graham
monarch butterfly on purple butterfly bush garden
(© Eric –

An Arlington County gardener has noticed a decline in the number of butterflies to her property over the last 17 years.

Mary Free, a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, also service in the City of Alexandria, said that a thriving butterfly habitat can be simple.

“Habitat loss is a major factor in the decline of insect and bird populations,” Free said. “Everyone who creates a butterfly habitat adds a steppinh stone to reverse that trend by providing a place where pollinators can safely eat and reproduce, planting trees and shrubs that reduce carbon and using fewer chemicals.”

While it may seem daunting at first, it can be as easy as several potted plants or as expansive as acres of flora.

“The key is to provide the plant food butterflies need as both caterpillars and adults,” Free said.

Location, soil type, light conditions and hardiness zone can help guide plant choices, she said.

Free encourages sticking with native plant species, as they attract native butterflies, provide the quality food they need, adapt to local climates and conditions and promote biodiversity.

Every butterfly is unique, with some species and their caterpillars feeding on a variety of plants while others only need one host plant. There are over 102 butterfly species that have been observed in Virginia, according to

Some host plants may already be growing in gardens, like parsley, carrots, dill and fennel, which attract Eastern Black swallowtail caterpillars. Some may exist in neighborhoods, like white clover and oak, wild cherry and flowering dogwood trees.

To maximize results

Free recommends finding what native host plants are nearby and planting something different to maximize results.

  • Consider incorporating a rock in a sunny spot for butterflies to warm their wings, and a puddling area for male butterflies, as they need soil minerals for reproduction.
  • Planting densely is preferred, she said, as butterflies need refuge from wind and rain.
  • Don’t buy plants that have been treated with pesticides, as they can be deadly to butterfly larvae
  • Avoid using chemicals in and around the garden
  • Avoid clearing away dead flowers or foliage on or near host plants as they may harbor butterfly eggs or feeding caterpillars

For a complete list of nectar and host plants for mid-Atlantic butterflies and moths, visit

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.

Latest News

virginia map
Economy, Virginia

Commonwealth’s general fund revenues exceed expectations in August

shower water
Environment, Virginia

Monsanto to pay Virginia $80M in PCBs distribution settlement

Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are artificial chemicals responsible for harmful health effects and negative environmental impacts. PCBs were distributed by Monsanto Co. from the 1930s to 1977, when the company produced 99 percent of America’s PCBs. Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares and his team secured an $80 million settlement agreement with Monsanto Co. for environmental contamination...

Economy, U.S. & World

Mortgage rates decreased in early September, remained above 7%

The cost of living, including food and gas, remains on the up and up, but mortgage rates may be on the down.

broadband internet

‘Internet is no longer a luxury but a necessity’: Four organizations awarded federal investments

open business sign

SCCF accepting entrepreneurs and business ideas in new Incubator Program


Boys & Girls Club golf tournament raises more than $25K for programs

loveworks sign Staunton
Culture, Local

LOVEworks sign to be featured in Staunton’s Wharf for QCMM this weekend