How to Plant a Butterfly Garden

3 Materials
$100
1 Day
Easy

I love when the weather warms up, the flowers bloom and butterflies visit my gardens daily. Butterflies are gorgeous creatures that are amazing to watch. But how do we attract them to the garden?

Gorgeous monarch sampling the echinacea.

When I first designed my gardens, I researched butterfly and hummingbird attracting plants to entice them to my yard. I dreamed of having a garden that was flooded by these beautiful creatures. Thankfully, there is a lot of plant overlap that attracts both.


Once I honed my plant list, I considered deer browsing and what plants I should avoid. While I don’t mind adding plants that have a low deer resistance rating because I spray them, I prefer to focus more on plants that they tend to avoid. To learn more about creating a deer-resistant garden, check out my blog post, Deer-Proofing Your Garden.

A swallowtail enjoying the bee balm.

Attracting Butterflies

If you want to start a butterfly garden, it is important to plan ahead. Do your research, site and prepare the bed, and include plants that both caterpillars and butterflies enjoy. To achieve success, be sure to feed butterflies with adult nectar plants and developing caterpillars with host plants.

My gardens attract lots of butterflies.

Location

It is important to plant nectar plants near fences, shrubs, trees and vines to provide shelter from winds and rain. When designing a butterfly border, there are few things to keep in mind:



  • Plant in a sunny location.
  • Research and select plants that will attract butterflies common to your area.
  • Create a succession of blooms so butterflies visit and want to hang around.

Host Plants

Since butterflies lay eggs on certain plants that feed their caterpillars, butterflies prefer visiting gardens where host plants are nearby.

Examples of host plants include Milkweed, Viburnum, Wisteria, Flowering Dogwoods, Snapdagons, Foxgloves and many others. For more information about host plants, see Creating Inviting Habitats by the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Tip: leave plants that are dying back or defoliated in the borders because they may contain eggs or developing butterflies on them. I allow my plants to die back naturally and avoid cutting plants back until early spring where possible. It doesn’t always look great, but it helps keep the butterfly lifecycle going!

My garden is full of butterfly loving plants.

Nectar Plants

It is important to select plants with varying bloom times so butterflies are fed from spring through fall. Butterflies’ attention is drawn to clusters of like colors so it is important to plant enough of the same flowers together.

Create large groupings of nectar plants.

Tips:



  • Butterflies favor native plants.
  • Where possible, avoid pesticides in your gardens because they can wipe out butterflies and other pollinators.
  • Butterflies are drawn to brightly colored purples, blues, yellows, whites and pinks.
  • Focus on plants with multiple florets as well as composite flowers, because they can get more nectar at one time.
  • Avoid double flowering varieties because they carry less nectar.

Plants that Attract Butterflies

In my Zone 6a gardens, butterflies love to sample Bee Balm, Echinacea, Butterfly Bush, Butterfly Weed, Liatris (when I had it), Coreopsis, Black-Eyed Susan, Tall Phlox, Sedum Autumn Joy and Joe Pye Weed. There are lots of others, so check with your local extension for butterfly loving flowers.

Plant bright colored flowers that will attract butterflies.

How to Plant Butterfly Attracting Flowers



  • Buy butterfly loving flowers.
  • Lay out where you want them planted.
  • Dig a hole 2x the size of the root ball of the plant.

Remove plants from nursery containers.

  • Remove plants from nursery containers.
  • Loosen the root ball with your fingers so to encourage the roots to grow outside the root ball.

Dig a hole 2x the size of the plant roots.


Fan out the roots and drop in the hole.

  • Set plants in the ground.
  • Backfill hole with fresh and existing garden soil.
  • Cover with mulch.

Backfill hole with fresh garden soil, existing soil and mulch.

For more gardening tips and tricks, click here.

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Have a question about this project?

2 questions
  • Bea Falcone
    on Apr 30, 2020

    Do the butterflies need a water source in the garden?

    • Debbi
      on May 11, 2020

      They usually drink from mud puddles, or dew on leaves. I leave a pie plate full of mud (moistened soil) once they begin showing up in my gardens.

      They like fermented fruit as well, mixed with a little wine. I hang the pie plates from a double sheperds hook, works really well (to prevent an ant invasion... I mix a good amount of cinnamon with Vaseline and smear it on the base of the sheperds hook up to about 2' or so)


      Last year, to my surprise and huge excitement, Monarch caterpillars invaded my parsley plants. Out of all my herbs, fruit, and vegetable plants, the parsley survived through this past winter, as well as, my usual strawberry and mint! I cannot wait to see what happens this year!!!

      Happy Gardening 😉

  • Carol Hitchens
    on May 3, 2020

    I live in Florida, zone 9, where do I find what native butterfly plants are good in my area?

Join the conversation

1 comment
  • Milician
    on May 1, 2020

    Hi have you ever heard about the butterfly tree? It's a buddlia big purple flower heads some people call it lavateria. Can grow into trees. The butterflys love this tree alone. Your gardens cool. An myself wanted more nature.my garden every year is full off butterfly the king George one's which are rare so I'm happy..I have giant Lilly's grow 6 foot ladybirds breed on these. An carrier bees..you ever seen one munching away at leafs an they fly away to make there nest not stinging anyone who is in there way. cool. Hope your garden brings as much happiness as mine dose with me. An your little friends will be happy for making your garden there home to. Keep safe an well

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