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How to Create a Butterfly Garden

A butterfly garden is a great way to attract a variety of different butterflies to your yard. Not only are butterflies are delicate and beautiful to look at, but since they pollinate plants, they’re actually really important to our ecosystem, too. When you’re planning your garden, research the plants that butterflies in your area prefer. Be sure to include nectar plants for their food, as well as host plants for caterpillars!


EditChoosing the Plants

  1. Research the species of butterflies that are native to your area. In order for the plants in your garden to attract butterflies, it’s essential to understand which species might be living nearby. To determine this, you can research online, read a butterfly field guide, or talk to local horticulturists and butterfly gardeners. If there’s a local butterfly garden in your area, you may want to plan a trip to see what’s planted there, as well![1]
    Create a Butterfly Garden Step 1 Version 2.jpg
    • For a map of butterflies found in each U.S. state, visit
    • The butterflies in your area will typically feed on plants that are native to your region.
    • Once you know which butterflies can be found in your area, use that information to decide which plants to include in your garden.
  2. Plant a variety of nectar plants for your butterflies to feed on. Adult butterflies get most of their food and moisture from the nectar produced by certain flowers. While some species prefer some plants over others, butterflies will often feed on any nectar-producing plants, especially those with brightly-colored flowers.[2]
    Create a Butterfly Garden Step 2 Version 2.jpg
    • Some popular nectar-producing plants that will attract butterflies include purple coneflowers, milkweed, butterfly weed, asters, marigold, zinnia, cosmos, and lantana.[3]
  3. Choose host plants where your butterflies can lay eggs. Once you identify the butterflies that are native to your area, research where they prefer to lay their eggs. Then, include those host plants when you’re planning what you want in your garden. While adult butterflies aren’t always picky about their sources of nectar, they are extremely particular about where they lay their eggs. That’s because butterflies usually lay their eggs on the plants that their larvae feed on, and that usually consists of only 1 or a very few specific plants.[4]
    Create a Butterfly Garden Step 3 Version 2.jpg
    • Adult butterflies typically lay their eggs on different plants than the ones they feed from themselves.
    • For example, a monarch butterfly will only lay her eggs on milkweed, since that is the only food a monarch caterpillar will eat.
    • Black swallowtails prefer to lay their eggs on dill, parsley, fennel, and carrot.[5]
    • A Gorgone Checkerspot lays its eggs on the sunflower plant.
  4. Opt for plants with wide, flat clusters of brightly-colored, fragrant flowers. Not all of the plants in your garden have to be specific to the local butterflies in your area. Butterflies are attracted to bright colors, so consider that when you’re choosing plants, but you can include anything you wish in your garden. If you’re adding in more flowers, keep in mind that butterflies prefer plants with large clusters of blooms, since this provides an easy base for them to land on, especially if the clusters grow flat, like goldenrods, zinnias, verbena, or Spirea.[6]
    Create a Butterfly Garden Step 4 Version 2.jpg
    • Butterflies especially like purple, pink, orange, and yellow flowers. However, some butterflies can’t see the color red, so be sure that’s not the only color you plant![7]
    • The fragrance of the flowers will also help attract the butterflies to the garden.
  5. Include a variety of heights, colors, and shapes in your garden. Planting a diverse selection of plants will help attract more butterflies to your garden. If you plant a variety of colorful blooms, the butterflies will be more likely to see the garden from a distance. Also, you’ll be more likely to see multiple species of butterflies if you have a more diverse selection of food and host plants for them to enjoy.[8]
    Create a Butterfly Garden Step 5 Version 2.jpg
    • A variety of plant heights will help your butterflies feel more sheltered.
  6. Leave a nearby section of wild grass and wildflowers, if it’s possible. If you have the space, consider leaving a patch of ground somewhere near your garden where you grow the natural grass, wildflowers, and undergrowth that would occur in the wild. During periods of wind and inclement weather, butterflies typically take shelter in tall grass and shrubs. This patch will provide a natural hiding spot to keep your butterflies safe.[9]
    Create a Butterfly Garden Step 6 Version 2.jpg
    • They’ll also hide here if any predators approach.
    • If this isn’t possible, you may want to include a butterfly house in your garden instead.

EditPicking the Location and Planting the Garden

  1. Choose a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. As you’re planning your garden, spend a clear day watching the way the sun travels across your yard. Every hour or so, take note of which areas are in the sun, and which are shaded. Then, pick one of the sunniest spots as the location for your garden.[10]
    Create a Butterfly Garden Step 7 Version 2.jpg
    • Butterflies are cold-blooded, so they require sunlight to warm them up throughout the day.
  2. Pick a location that’s sheltered from strong wind. If the butterflies are exposed to high winds, they’ll spend most of their energy just trying not to get blown around. Place your butterfly garden near a wall, a fence, or a wooded area to help them conserve energy so they can eat and lay their eggs.[11]
    Create a Butterfly Garden Step 8.jpg
    • For example, if you have a shed and your area is frequently subjected to cold north winds, you could place your garden on the south side of the shed.
  3. Place the shorter plants in front with taller varieties in back. The butterflies will have an easier time reaching their food if you arrange your plants from shortest to tallest, almost like stair steps. Place larger bushes and shrubs in the back, with shorter flowers in the very front.[12]
    Create a Butterfly Garden Step 9.jpg
    • If you don’t have room to plant shrubs, try placing an arbor with vines near the back of your garden.
  4. Plant your flowers in large groups. Butterflies are pretty small, but they prefer big clumps of flowers. Try to group your flowers together in large masses. The butterflies will be able to see the garden from a distance, and you’ll get more visitors to enjoy.[13]
    Create a Butterfly Garden Step 10.jpg
    • It’s fine to include different, non-butterfly plants in your garden. However, try to keep the flowers close together, as this will make feeding easier for the butterflies.
  5. Group flowers that will bloom at the same time. To make the most of your butterfly display, research what time of year each plant will bloom. Then, create sections out of the plants with the same flowering window so you’ll have bright groups of blooms opening at about the same time.[14]
    Create a Butterfly Garden Step 11.jpg
    • For instance, if some of your plants open in the late spring and others will bloom into the early fall, you could group your spring plants on one side of the garden, and your late-bloomers on the other side.
    • If you have a small garden, you might not need to section it off.

EditAdding Other Butterfly-Friendly Elements

  1. Include 1 or 2 large, flat rocks in your butterfly garden. Butterflies love to soak up the sun while resting on a nice, warm rock, especially early in the morning. By including these rocks in your garden, the butterflies will have a chance to get warmed up before they start feeding for the day.[15]
    Create a Butterfly Garden Step 12.jpg
    • Try to place the rocks so the sun hits them first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon. This is when butterflies need the most warmth.
  2. Provide a patch of wet sand where the butterflies can drink. Butterflies typically won’t try to drink out of a deep water source like a pond or a birdbath. Instead, they prefer to get their moisture from damp earth. To help ensure your butterflies have plenty to drink, create a small area filled with sand, then pour water onto the sand whenever it seems dry.[16]
    Create a Butterfly Garden Step 13.jpg
    • If you don’t have a lot of space, you can fill a shallow saucer with sand, then add a little water every day or so, or as needed.
  3. Set up a butterfly box if you want to give extra shelter. A butterfly box is similar to a bird house, but it has slatted openings. You can hang your butterfly box in a tree, on the side of a shed, or place it on a stake if you’d like to put one in your garden. It will provide shelter to your butterflies during rough weather or at night when they’re sleeping.[17]
    Create a Butterfly Garden Step 14.jpg
    • The slatted openings should keep birds and bats from getting into the butterfly box.
    • If you have a large garden, you may want to include more than one box.
  4. Put out a tray of fruit scraps if you want to provide extra food. While your butterflies should get all of the nutrients they need from the nectar plants in your garden, they may enjoy an extra treat if you’d like to include one. Early in the morning, place out a small tray filled with cut-up pieces of fruit, including the flesh and the peels..[18]
    Create a Butterfly Garden Step 15.jpg
    • Butterflies like Admirals and Red-Spotted Purples especially love sliced oranges, pears, or melons.
  5. Hang a butterfly feeder in your garden for a steady source of nectar. If you want to ensure your butterflies always have something to eat, even when your garden isn’t in bloom, you can hang a butterfly feeder in your garden. Fill the feeder with nectar, then place the feeder on a stake or hang it from a tree near your garden.[19]
    Create a Butterfly Garden Step 16.jpg
    • You can find butterfly feeders and nectar at most garden supply stores.
    • You can also make your own butterfly food by mixing 1 part sugar with 1 part water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then wait for it to cool before you add it to the feeder.
    • A hummingbird feeder won’t work for butterflies, since those are designed for the birds’ long, narrow beaks.


  • Unfortunately, many species of butterflies have suffered declining populations in recent years. By providing them with a safe place to eat and lay their eggs, your butterfly garden could help sustain your local butterfly numbers!


  • Butterflies are very delicate and are extremely susceptible to being harmed by pesticides. Whenever possible, use organic pest control solutions instead of harsh chemicals.

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from How to of the Day