Wondering how to attract butterflies to your yard? We’ve got some great ideas for your butterfly garden that will help you design a fabulous oasis for our important winged friends.
Butterflies play an essential part in the pollination of plants and cultivation of crops (as do bees, wasps and flies). They are an indicator of a healthy environment and ecosystem – and we need to see more on them. The world’s food source depends on pollinators. Habitat loss and climate change has taken its toll on the butterfly population. But hey, here’s a win-win for you. Design and plant a beautiful butterfly garden, attract butterflies all summer long for your viewing pleasure – and help the environment at the same time. All the information you need to get started on that garden is right here.
How do I Attract Butterflies to my Garden?
Butterflies need food, so to attract butterflies – plant nectar and pollen rich flowers in your butterfly garden. In bright, warm colors. They also need fruit for essential nutrients and vitamins. If you leave cut pieces out for them, you’ll have them flocking to your yard. They like a nice sunny place and a place to sit. Perhaps on a small river rock in the sun, to soak up some rays. But keep it out of the wind, they also need shelter. It doesn’t take much to blow a butterfly away.
And people tend to forget, butterflies need water, too. Do supply a butterfly puddle or puddler. And don’t use pesticides. If you provide a sheltered spot where they can get some sun, some water and food, they’ll be dropping by every day.
But why not go one better? Butterflies also require host plants on which to lay their eggs – and some species are very particular. The Monarch caterpillar, for example, can only eat milkweed once it hatches so the larvae must be deposited on a milkweed plant if they are to survive. If you design both host and nectar plants into your butterfly garden, you’ll be rewarded with multiple generations of butterflies.
So there you have it. Food, shelter, water, sun. It’s simple. Sort of. Create the habitat they like to live in. You know, build it and they will come. Plant native plants. Local butterflies like native plants. Funny how nature works like that. You can check for an extensive database of native plants in both the US and Canada at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center.
Both host and nectar plants thrive in containers. So even if you’ve only got a small patio, you can still design an effective butterfly garden.
What’s with those Monarch Butterflies?
Above: A monarch feeds on Swamp Milkweed at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center.
Monarchs travel much further than other butterflies. They migrate twice a year, up to 4,000 miles each way. They will fly en mass to the same winter roots, often the same trees. This despite the fact that the migration period spans three to four generations. So they are returning to places their grandparents and great grandparents knew. Places they somehow know by instinct. Monarchs have suffered a huge loss in numbers in the last decade due to habitat loss and climate change. However, we’re started to see as small upturn again, as people begin planing Monarch-friendly butterfly gardens.
Which Flowers Do Butterflies Like Best?
Adult butterflies are looking for the nectar plants, unless they are in their egg-laying life stage. Below are some of the favorite butterfly garden plants. You can find a more extensive list of nectar plants for your butterfly garden at the ButterflyWebsite.com.
Asters – photo credit Kim Smith Designs
Butterfly Bush in lilac. Source
Butterfly Bush in white. Source
Daisies with Buckeye butterfly. Source
Daylily with Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Source
Echinacea (Purple Coneflower) with Tiger Swallowtail. Source
Hydrangea & Monarch. Photo Credit: Jane M. Grillo
Lavender and Petit Papillion. Source
Mexican sunflower with Monarch. Source
Passionflower and Gulf Coast Fritillary. Source
Phlox and Eastern Swallowtail. Source
The Clearwing is one of the most unusual looking butterflies. Source
Butterflies love Zinnias. Source
Monarch seed ball for gardeners. Toss and let nature do the work. Pre-seeded clumps of dirt with butterfly garden favorites. From Gardener’s Supply.
Butterfly Garden Seed Kit from Terrain with seeds, stakes and planting guide.
Waterford Press offers a fold-out guide to help you identify all those butterflies in your yard.
Attracting Butterflies with Fruit
Butterflies love fruit. In fact, they require fruit to provide essential vitamins and nutrients that just aren’t found in flower nectar. They like many fruits – among their favorites: oranges, grapefruits, peaches, nectarines, kiwi, apples, strawberries, watermelon and bananas.
Butterflies like dragon fruit. Source
They prefer fruit that is beginning to spoil, so don’t throw it out. And look how simple this DIY is – it’s a yogurt container lid (or something similar) with twine. Voila. Source
Butterflies like strawberries, too. Who knew that feeding butterflies could be so much fun? Source
Oranges are a favorite in the butterfly garden. Source
Blue Morpho feasting on orange and banana. Leave the skin on one side of the fruit to provide support as the fruit decays. Some butterflies even like to get drunk as the fruit ferments. Source
Oranges and graperfruits are the two citrus that will attract many different species to your butterfly garden. Source
They like watermelon, too. Source
It’s like a butterfly buffet of apples and oranges.
DIY Butterfly Feeders
You really don’t need more than a bowl or plate but you can go a bit more upscale. Repurpose an old bird bath, adding a bowl full of oranges to the middle. Works like a charm. Source
This is just the bottom tray from a terra cotta pot. Use your imagination. A butterfly garden really doesn’t have to be fancy – just effective. Source
This is the coolest feeder. Just use wire coat hangers and a long branch. From Birds & Blooms.
Gimme Shelter: Butterfly Houses
Butterfly houses look like birdhouses but are much skinnier and the doors are like skinny letter slots. Source
The Grosvenor House. Source
Bright and cheerful colors on this handmade butterfly house from Etsy. Great colors for any garden.
This turquoise butterfly garden house is from Uncommon Goods.
Gourd houses are gorgeous – and a bit of a twist. Source
Black Eyed Susans are another great choice for butterfly gardens. Source
Your Butterfly Garden Needs a Water Source
People think of feeding birds, hummingbirds and butterflies. But they often don’t think of a water source. These guys all need water as much as they need food (so do bees, but they can use your butterfly puddles).
Butterfly Puddler from Uncommon Goods. It’s pretty, but you don’t have to get that fancy. You can easily create your own puddles from simple items around the house.
This one is just terracotta pots. Put some rocks in the bottom of the pond so that the butterflies have somewhere to stand. Source
Assorted rocks and glass gems make an interesting puddler. Remember – a water source is an essential component in designing a butterfly garden. Butterflies drink from places they can stay dry, so you need to provide rocks or something to perch on. Source
Their dry resting place can be as simple as plastic scrub pads. They are attracted to bright colors, so keep that in mind as you design your butterfly garden. Source
Grow Your Own: A Butterfly Garden from Scratch
It’s great to have adult butterflies in the garden looking for nectar, but unless you provide host plants, where they can lay their eggs – you won’t have as many butterflies overall. You can work these plants right into your garden design from the start. Host plants are specific to some butterfly species. For example, monarch butterfly larvae can only be hosted on the Milkweed plant. Willow and Elm trees are a common hosts for other butterflies, as are plants like fennel, thistle, hollyhock and almost anything from the cabbage family. For an extensive list, click here: Host Plants List. And be prepared for a fair amount of munching on the host plants once the caterpillars have appeared in your butterfly garden. That’s life, folks.
Swallowtail caterpillars (above) and butterfly (below). Source
Cecropia Caterpillar (Giant Silk Moth). Isn’t he cute? Looks like ladybugs on his back. Source
Photo Credit: Chip Miller
Photo: Jim Gilbert
Pailio. Photo Credit: Tetsuya Shimizu
Monarch Caterpillar (above) and butterfly (below). The emerging caterpillars cannot travel for food and Monarchs can only live if the larvae are laid on Milkweed plants. It’s important to cultivate as many Milkweed plants as possible in your butterfly garden to help the Monarch return to its numbers.
As there are many varieties of the plant, it is very important to get milkweed native to your region. You can look up the variety for your garden at The Xerces Society, by region and by state.
This butterfly is a very important pollinator for the agriculture industry in Canada, the US and Mexico. You can buy Milkweed plants online and it’s the best way to attract these butterflies. This site has a comprehensive directory, listing mail order sources for many varieties: Monarch Watch
Monarchs at the Monarch Biosphere Reserve in Michoacan, Mexico – a World Heritage Site.
Monarch Migration. Source
For more ideas, check out our main garden tips section.