How to Create a Butterfly Garden
Learn how to make your yard a destination for these beauties.
2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited
Butterfly gardening involves planning a garden to attract, retain, and encourage butterfly populations. Select a variety of nectar producing plants with the aim of providing flowers in bloom throughout season, sure to bring hours of fun.
- butterfly-attracting flowers
- large, flat rock
- water source
- one or more trees or shrubs
Step 1: Select Site for Butterfly Garden
Choose a site that has some sun but is also sheltered from wind. Include a few trees and shrubs for roosting at night and for cooling off on the hottest days.
Step 2: Remember the Rocks
Add one or two large, flat rocks in the sun so butterflies have a place to bask when mornings are cool.
Step 3: Provide Water
Since butterflies cannot drink from open water, provide them with a "puddle" by filling a container, such as an old birdbath, with wet sand where they can perch and drink safely.
Step 4: Add the Plants
Add nectar plants, including aster, black-eyed Susan, butterfly bush, butterfly weed, cosmos, ironweed, Joe-Pye weed, phlox, purple coneflower, sedum, and zinnia. Include food plants for the larvae, including dill, fennel, milkweed, and parsley. Different butterfly larvae feed on different plants, so research the butterflies native to your region to determine what to plant. Remember: Butterfly larvae are caterpillars. Learn to distinguish the larvae of butterflies you're trying to attract from pest species. Minimize the use of pesticides to protect butterfly larvae and adults.
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)
Want to add some height to your cottage garden? Consider including hollyhock (Alcea rosea), which blooms over a long period in summer. Depending on cultivar, its blooms come in singles and doubles in shades of lavender, pink, purple, red, salmon, apricot, white and yellow.
The light blue flowers of amsonia appear in late spring to early summer. The willow-like green leaves of this perennial turn golden in fall. Amsonia thrives in partial shade to full sun and will attract butterflies to your garden. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9, depending on species.
Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) loves sun and moist soil. This cool-season plant grows 1 to 2 feet tall, and the flowers are edible. Consider this annual for your butterfly garden, or use in containers or as a border flower. The bright yellow or orange flowers of pot marigold first appear in early summer.
Want to add a vertical element to your midsummer garden? Consider gayfeather, whose purple, lavender or white spires are like 3-foot-tall exclamation points. Butterflies and hummingbirds are big fans of this sun-loving perennial.
Baptisias, herbaceous perennials native to the Midwest and eastern U.S., bloom in mid spring to early summer, depending on the species and weather. Colors range from yellow to white to blue. Hardiness varies with species and cultivar, from USDA Zones 3 to 9.
This small (18 inches tall and wide), shrubby perennial produces its fragrant blooms throughout the summer in blue, lavender, purple or white, depending on the cultivar. Heliotrope prefers moist, well-drained soil in full sun or, where summers are hot, in afternoon shade. Butterflies are attracted to its flowers, which offer a delightful vanilla scent. Bring container plants under cover for winter or take cuttings.
The fragrant flowers of 'Hidcote' lavender (Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote') appear in early summer and will bring butterflies to your garden space. One of the cold hardiest of the English lavenders, 'Hidcote' doesn’t do well with the high humidity of the Southeast. This perennial can grow to a height of 20 inches and works well in cut-flower and dried-flower arrangements.
Use floss flower (Ageratum houstonianum) to brighten your containers. This annual enjoys full sun, and moist, well-drained soil. Brush-like clustered flowers bloom in blue, pink, purple or white. Pictured is 'Hawaii White'. Floss flower can reach a height of 18 inches and spread to 9 inches. This North American native also can attract butterflies.
Chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus) produces maroon flowers in mid- to late summer that offer a scent of chocolate. This perennial can grow up to 24 inches tall in full sun and moist soil. Consider for your patio containers and use to attract butterflies to your garden.
African lily (Agapanthus africanus) displays its lovely blue blooms in late summer or early fall. This clumping evergreen perennial can grow as tall as 36 inches and spread up to 18 inches. It appreciates full sun or partial to dappled shade.
Asters love full sun and bloom from late summer into fall. Pictured is the cultivar Aster x frikartii 'Wunder von Stäfa'. This herbaceous perennial features dark leaves and daisy-like flowers that are violet with yellow centers. Consider using in containers or as border plantings because they can reach 28 inches tall.
As its common name would suggest, Buddleia davidii attracts butterflies with its lovely blooms of lavender, pink, white, purple, red or yellow. These blooms can appear beginning in early spring and continue until first frost. In full sun, butterfly bush can grow up to 10 feet tall.
Sea holly (Eryngium x tripartitum) can grow to a height of 32 inches and spread 20 inches. This perennial prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Its cone-like purple bloom heads appear in mid to late summer.