How to Start a Butterfly Garden

Butterflies are admired for their bright colors and graceful movements. Butterflies are not just attractive insects, but they can help pollinate plants. If you’d like to see more butterflies around your yard, you should consider starting a butterfly garden.

A butterfly garden does not just attract butterflies to your garden, but truly helps butterflies because it gives them a safe space and ample plants and flowers to feed on and lay eggs on.

Pick a Place

The great thing about a butterfly garden is that it can be any size. It can be a patch in your backyard, a specific, designated area or it could be a small window box.


Several Monarch butterflies are seen on some Aster Woods Purple flowers.

When it comes down to it, starting a butterfly garden is as simple as selecting flowers and plants that will attract more butterflies. But by taking a few more steps, you can make your butterfly garden a place that will also allow butterflies to grow and multiply.


A colorful butterfly garden filled with flowers of different colors and heights.

When choosing a spot for your butterfly garden, look for an area that receives a lot of sunlight and that adds some protection from the wind.

Choose Your Plants

First, you should check and find out what butterflies are native to your area. This will tell you what plants and flowers will be most likely to attract them. However, butterflies use plants for two reasons, to feed on and to lay eggs on.

Butterfly larvae are caterpillars and most caterpillars feed on plant leaves. Many butterflies lay their eggs on the underside of leaves. When the eggs hatch, the larvae start feeding on the leaves immediately.

Monarch butterflies tend to lay eggs on milkweed, while painted lady butterflies typically lay eggs on thistle. Again, in order to decide what plants you want in your butterfly garden, you should first find out what butterflies are native to your area. It would also be wise to check to see what plants certain caterpillars feed on.

Because both butterflies and larvae will be feeding on these plants, it’s very important that you do not use harsh chemicals on your plants or in your yard in order to protect the larvae and butterflies. Of course, you’ll likely have garden pests, but try to minimize the use of any pesticides that you use. Instead, try to only spray pesticides on problem areas, or better yet, use a natural pesticide, such as neem oil.

Annuals are great butterfly plants as they bloom throughout the season, providing a steady and consistent supply of nectar for butterflies. But other plants, such as perennials, wildflowers and shrubs, are also attractive to butterflies.

Butterflies truly are attracted to bright colors so make sure to use an assortment of flowers of all different colors. It’s also best to design your butterfly garden in a way that staggers the height of the plants as that will be more appealing to butterflies.


A Red Admiral butterfly takes a moment to enjoy some purple coneflowers in a butterfly garden. Butterflies are drawn to bright flowers and purple coneflowers are extra appealing as they offer nectar. 

Annuals

Zinnia

Marigolds

Sunflower

Petunia

Perennials

Coneflower (Echinacae)

Black-Eyed Susan

Liatris (Blazing star)

Peony

Asters

Wildflowers

Milkweed

Nettles

Shrubs

Autumn Joy Sedum (Stonecrop)

Sumac

Blueberry bush

Additional Needs

Nectar

In addition to ensuring there are plenty of flowers and plants producing nectar in your butterfly garden, it would be worth it to double up with a nectar feeder as well. You can either purchase a butterfly feeder, or make a homemade feeder.

To make a homemade butterfly feeder, you can take an empty, clean jar, such as a baby food jar or small mason jar, and put a small hole in the top of the lid. Then fill the jar about half way with a sweet substance.

Butterflies enjoy sweet, juicy fruit such as peaches and pears. You can add fruit to the jar or you can mix nine parts water and one part sugar and pour the mixture into the jar. On top of that you can stuff the jar with cotton or a sponge and screw the lid on. Set the jar in the garden as an additional nectar source.

Water

Most butterflies like shallow puddles as they can easily get a sip of water from it. A small, shallow dish filled with small stones or sand would work well. This is another good reason to avoid using pesticides because you wouldn’t want any of the chemicals to get into the butterfly’s water source.

Sun

In addition to providing the right plants, a sunny area will be key to drawing in butterflies. Since they are cold-blooded insects, they’ll need sun to warm their bodies. Make sure wherever your butterfly garden is at, it gets plenty of sunlight throughout the day, especially in the morning so that butterflies can warm themselves up.

A large, flat rock or two would be an excellent addition to your butterfly garden as it will allow butterflies to rest and bask in the sunlight.

Shelter

Because butterflies are such tender insects, they could use a little extra protection from the elements. Your butterfly garden is serving as a sanctuary for butterflies so why not add a butterfly house?

A butterfly house has several vertical slots that allow for butterflies to slide in. While some people doubt if butterfly houses get any use, it doesn’t hurt to add one to your garden. It’s a space for butterflies to get away from the wind or rain and it’s also a warmer area for them to go in the cooler months or in the evening.  A bonus is that the house adds a little something extra to your garden.

A butterfly house is seen in a butterfly garden. A butterfly house allows for butterflies to get out of the wind and rain and it also serves as a warming house for butterflies in the evenings or in the cooler months.

A butterfly house can be easily mounted on a pole in the garden or even on a tree near the garden.

Now that your butterfly garden is ready, you’ll be able to sit and admire the butterflies that stop to rest in your garden. You may see some regulars and hopefully with time, you’ll start to see more as they multiply, thanks to your butterfly garden.