How to create a butterfly garden

butterfly garden

Flower gardening is an enjoyable and rewarding hobby, but even more so when you provide a habitat for butterflies. They’re a joy to watch and if you happen to be a photographer, a wonderful subject to capture on film. Make these activities easier by planting your own butterfly garden. Don’t be surprised if your future ecosystem is the talk of the (butterfly) town!

To create an ecosystem to support butterflies you must have both host and nectar plants. Butterflies lay their eggs on the host plants. The caterpillars that result use the host plant for their food source and then form their chrysalis there. If you’re lucky, you may even get the chance to watch a butterfly emerge from its cocoon.

The nectar plants need the sun to produce nectar for the butterflies – it is their food source. Choose fragrant plants because the butterflies are attracted to strong scents. Make your choices colorful too, because butterflies are attracted to several bright colors including orange, yellow, purple, and dark pink.


Prepare the area you wish to transform as you would a flower garden. The butterfly garden must be in a spot that receives full sun, however. Butterflies need the sun to warm themselves so that they may fly. Remember that to support both host plants and nectar plants you will need a fair amount of space.

An alternative is to plant the host plants in a different area of your yard – next to a shed, behind a garage, etc. Plant the flowers in a group by themselves if you wish. Make any amendments to the soil if necessary. Use compost to give your plants a good start.

Below is a list of host plants you can choose for the types of butterflies you’ve seen in your area. Also, see the list of nectar-rich flowers to choose from. There are many more flowers you can choose to attract butterflies. A good rule of thumb is to choose plants with fragrant blooms.

Plant host plants in groups in a specific section, then plant flowers from the back of your garden to the front and note the height of your flowers. Tallest plants go in the back, then progress forward as the plants go down in height.


  • Mourning Cloak – Elm, willow, poplar, aspen, cottonwood
  • Swallowtails – Queen Anne’s Lace, milkweed, Joe-Pye weed, jewelweed
  • True Skippers – Grasses, hedges
  • Sulfurs – Willows, mistletoe, heaths
  • American Painted Lady – Everlasting
  • Monarch – Milkweed
  • Painted Lady – Thistle, everlasting, hollyhock
  • Zebra Swallowtail – Pawpaw
  • Regal Fritillary – Violet

Note: If you wish to find butterflies native to your area, consult your local library’s collection on butterflies.


Choose plants that are native to your area for best results.

  • Red ivy geranium
  • Various zinnia varieties
  • Cosmos
  • Verbena
  • Cleome
  • Impatiens
  • Heliotrope
  • Lantana
  • Salvia
  • Coneflower
  • Pincushion flower
  • Butterfly bush
  • Lavender


There are other elements that will enhance the butterfly’s environment. For instance, place a few dark stones (river rocks work well because they’re flat) in your garden so the butterflies can rest there and gather energy from the sun.

Also, a pile of sticks or logs placed somewhere in your yard (doesn’t have to be in the flower garden) will provide shelter for the butterflies at night, and during rain. Be sure your butterflies have a water source. This is simply provided if you water your plants regularly, and if you provide an area in your garden for water to “puddle” so that the butterflies can drink.

If you want to have some fun, try slicing a piece of watermelon and bringing it outside with you. Place it near your new butterfly garden and watch the butterflies “attack” the fruit. You can even try picking the watermelon up while they’re busy sipping the juices.

They usually won’t budge. It’s a great way to watch these amazing creatures up close. Another way to quickly attract these beauties is to place some very ripe bananas out near your plants. The butterflies will find them.


An important note for your butterfly garden: don’t use pesticides. Chemicals kill butterflies among other beneficial insects. If you notice some bothersome insects chewing on your plants, use insecticidal soap.

Just make sure the little munchers aren’t caterpillars! Be sure to regularly feed your plants (follow directions on fertilizer) and deadhead flowers. Deadheading keeps the plant producing more flowers for a longer

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