How to Create a Butterfly Garden

Tips and plant recommendations for creating the perfect butterfly garden.
I always think of mid-summer as the butterfly time. As if by magic, butterflies make an appearance and float amongst the flowers.
I often discover them feeding on the hydrangea standard near the front door or alighting on the crazy looking mopheads of the Bee Balm on the opposite side of the flagstone walkway. In the backyard, its the late-summer Joe Pye Weed and Phlox that seem to really draw them to the garden.
Even so, it seems there are never enough butterflies and I find myself wishing I had more of these beautiful visitors.
A meadow-style planting, like this one at the entrance to the Toronto Botanical Garden, is a terrific magnet for butterflies.
The densely packed borders on either side of the path offer such abundant sources of nectar you can always find butterflies flitting from flower to flower.
If, like me, you want to attract more butterflies to your garden this summer, here is some information to help get you started.
Creating your own Butterfly Garden:
Find out what butterflies are common to your provence or state. Then do a little research to determine the specific nectar sources these butterflies prefer.
Adult butterflies are attracted to yellow, orange, pink, purple and red flowers.
Butterflies prefer to feed in the sun, so locate your butterfly garden accordingly.
Butterflies don't like to fight the wind, so it is also a good idea to choose a sheltered site.
Butterflies prefer to lay eggs on specific "host" plants, so again, do your research and plant accordingly. Black Swallowtails, for instance, like parsley, dill, fennel and common rue. Monarchs like milkweed. I found a very comprehensive list of a caterpillar's favourite foods here ( link in my blog post).
Plant for continuous bloom, so there is always a source of nectar in your garden.
Male butterflies often congregate around mud puddles, where they find the salt and minerals needed for successful mating. Create a homemade mud puddle using an old saucer from a plant pot and some moist sand. Find out more details in this article, or if you prefer, this video (links in my blog post).
Butterflies like to have a spot to warm up each morning, so it is a good idea to place some flat stones in a sunny area of your garden.
Swear-off using all insecticides. They are lethal to butterflies.
If you want to attract butterflies toy your garden, here are a few plants you might want to consider:
Monarda or Bee Balm not only attracts butterflies, it also attracts hummingbirds. There are an array of hybrid Monarda to choose from as well as the native Monarda fistulas you see here.
Monarda fistulas is a skyscraper that can reach up to 5 feet. It blooms from mid-summer into late September. Unlike modern hybrids, Monarda fistulosa is prone to outbreaks of powdery mildew. Even so, it is well worth having in your garden, because bees and butterflies love it. Full sun to light shade. Average soil. USDA Zones: 3-9.
This photo shows a mix of 3 plants that butterflies love: Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa+ Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia + Verbena bonariensis.
Phlox attract butterflies and are indispensable sources of color in the late-summer garden.
A few of the many varieties of Phlox available: Top left: Phlox paniculate,'Becky Towe' Top Right: Phlox paniculate, 'Laura' Bottom left: Phlox paniculate, 'Peppermint Twist' Bottom Right: Phlox paniculate, 'Light Pink Flame'
To see a more complete list of plant recommendations, please visit my blog.

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Have a question about this project?

3 of 4 questions
  • Beth Szatmary
    on Mar 17, 2016

    Your garden is gorgeous! Do some of these flowers also attract bees? My husband is allergic so I have to be careful what I plant.

  • NanaWells
    on Mar 22, 2016

    Do you know if attracting more Butterflies will also attract more bees, my husband is allergic to bees so I really don't want to attract more to the yard he mows. :)

    • DORLIS
      on Mar 27, 2016

      most all pollinators like the same flowers. i also put out shallow flower drain trays filled with sugar water and with pea gravel to give them a place to land, especially in spring to supplement flower necter.

  • Debbie
    on May 4, 2016

    are any of these flowers drought resistance?

Join the conversation

3 of 41 comments
  • Barbara Crofts
    on Apr 4, 2016

    I also love Butterflies and have dozens of Monarchs which have eaten all of my Swan Plants but after reading this Im going to do a Butterfly garden. Love your post.

  • Kathie Rains
    on Jul 28, 2017

    I would also add annuals especially tall zinnias. They grow easily and quickly from seed sown directly into the garden. Butterflies tend to like flat flowers they can land on. Many seed companies sell separate colors zinnia seed.
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