Barrels for Butterflies – Silver Award Project

I’m often asked for ideas and guidance on conservation themed projects from students and scouts. One that I often recommend and would like to see take off is Barrels for Butterflies!

Anyone can create a few pollinator container gardens for their own neighborhood. You can plant up some nice garden pots with native pollinator plants that work best for your area. In Northern New Jersey these are some top choice recommendations to get started. Culinary delight for pollinators!

Butterfly Weed Liatris Blazing Star Monarda Wild Bergamot Goldenrod

Each barrel for butterflies could have a little sign to designate it. Lots of choices available online or design your own with a local theme, “Hanover Park Pollinators!”. You may also offer a planting class for younger students or scouts and let them help plant and design the signs! Reading the book “The Puddle Garden” by Jared Rosenbaum offers an excellent introduction to native plants. You can also learn some flower anatomy with a craft activity! Or try butterfly dress-up to better understand how they find their host and nectar plants.

Our local landscape is so full of invasive species and just non-beneficial grass and shrubs that everyone plants around their homes that it’s becoming unwelcoming for wildlife like birds and pollinators. Adding a few native wild flowers would go a long way toward improving our local ecosystem at home for both beauty and the benefit of pollinators. 

Manicured lawns are largely useless to wildlife. There is no food, no place to hide and no shelter.
Tip: Consider native plants where mowing isn’t necessary.

These native plants act at host and nectar sources for butterfly species within New Jersey.  These plants could be purchased locally from small businesses if you give them advance notice to source them. Just make sure they are native NJ plants to have the maximum benefit and don’t make non-native plant substitutions out of convenience or the purpose of the project will be totally lost.

Here is a map that I made of Native Plant Nurseries in NJ that should have a good selection available, click here.

There is a lot of joy to seeing butterflies like monarchs, painted ladies, tiger swallowtails, skippers and more come and enjoy the nectar and lay eggs on the flowers you planted and hopefully it’ll inspire others to do the same. A butterfly gardener reaps many rewards considering they often enjoy the same colorful flowers butterflies rely on.

Tip: Butterflies add color beauty and grace to your garden. Plant a butterfly garden and win compliments from your neighbors.

What is a Host Plant? You can ensure butterflies reside in your yard by providing host plants that serve as larval caterpillar food. Butterfly species choose specific plants on which to lay their eggs. When these eggs hatch, the caterpillars/larvae are picky eaters and will eat the leaves.

Butterflies and the their Host Plants
• Black Swallowtail – Carrot Family Plants, Parsley, Dill, Fennel
• Buckeye – Plantain, Verbena
• Cabbage White – Mustard plants, Nasturtium
• Checkered White – Peppergrass, Winter Cress
• Clouded Sulphur – Clovers
• Eastern Tiger Swallowtail – Black Cherry, Ash
• Fritillary – Violets
• Monarch – Milkweed
• Painted Ladies – Thistles, Mallow
• Pearl Crescent – Asters
• Red/White Admiral – Black Cherry, Birch
• Silver Spotted Skipper – Pea Family, Locusts
• Spicebush Swallowtail – Spicebush & Sassafras
• Question Mark – Nettles, Elms

Pollinators are rewarded with nectar in exchange for their pollination services. The pollen is transferred from a flower’s anther onto the animal and then to the stigma of other flowers enabling fertilization.

Tip: Any space however big or small will help, just start somewhere!

Make sure the barrels have drainage holes, add a few rocks to the bottom, load them up with garden soil, a plant or two or three and a bit more soil around the planting. Water and let them grow!

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at



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