Butterfly gardens are becoming more popular – not just large ones, such as those at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and Tree Hill Nature Center, but also in residential yards.

You don’t need a lot of space to have a butterfly garden. Areas as small as a couple of square yards with a few flowering plants, including nectar plants such as milkweed, make a fine garden.

Make sure your garden gets sun as well as some shelter from the wind, according to Terri McGregor, co-owner of Earth Works, a Jacksonville garden and landscaping center. She also advises including a shallow bowl of water with some rocks and sand in it as a water source to help attract the butterflies.

Check here for a list of public butterfly gardens in our region

Sonya Reed started a small butterfly garden in front of her condo unit because she wanted her young daughters to see the life cycle up close. It’s fascinating to watch the colorful insect’s life cycle played out from egg to larva (caterpillars) to pupa and adult. “They were really engaged in it,” she said. Her five-year-old took a mature caterpillar to her pre-school class in a cylinder cage with milkweed and water, and the children watched it become a butterfly. “The children set it free,” Reed said. “They clapped and cheered.”

The caterpillar stage is fairly short, depending on the species, and it does nothing but eat. You can almost see them growing. The caterpillars are the picky stage of development – many will only eat one type of leaf. The monarch loves milkweed and the zebra, Florida’s state butterfly, favors the passion flower or passion vine, as do several other species.

There are a number of resources available for starting a butterfly garden. Websites online have suggested plants, answers to questions and plenty of additional information. Butterfly gardens aren’t always easy to maintain. Aphids are attracted to the milkweed, and wasps may feed on the caterpillar stage. Ants eat eggs and caterpillars, and assassin bugs suck the juices out of the caterpillar. Some area gardening companies have classes or you could hire a gardener to install plants.

Reed encourages everyone to have a butterfly garden. She got started with just a few milkweed plants. “You can take measures if you have pests, but I prefer to let nature do what it’s going to do,” she said. Like bees, butterflies are pollinators. By building habitats in our own backyards, we can play a small part in nourishing the diversity of flora of the First Coast.