How to Create a Butterfly Garden

Learn how to make your yard a destination for these beauties.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes)

Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes)

Close-Up Of Black Swallowtail Butterfly On Purple Flowers

Photo by: Getty Images/Vinod Kumar

Getty Images/Vinod Kumar

Materials Needed

  • 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.

Butterfly Garden Plants

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Amsonia

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.

Black-Eyed Susan

The prolific, drought-tolerant black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) produces dozens of flowers from mid summer to fall. Also called black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta is an annual.

Gayfeather

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.

Baptisia

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.

Lantana

Commonly known as lantana, red sage or yellow sage, this lover of hot weather is a natural butterfly magnet.

Heliotrope

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.

Photo By: Ball Horticultural Company

Butterfly Bush

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.

Photo By: ProvenWinners.com

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