How to Create a Butterfly Garden

Learn how to add a butterfly garden to your yard and make it a destination for these beauties.

black swallowtail butterfly in garden

Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes)

Close-Up Of Black Swallowtail Butterfly On Purple Flowers

Photo by: Getty Images/Vinod Kumar

Getty Images/Vinod Kumar

Watching butterflies bask in the sun or flit from flower to flower has to be one of the great pleasures of gardening. Here's how to create a butterfly garden that gives these gorgeous creatures a good place to hang out:

Materials

  • butterfly-attracting flowers
  • large, flat rocks
  • water source
  • one or more trees or shrubs

Step 1: Select Site for Butterfly Garden

A variety of broad-leafed trees and shrubs will provide cover from wind, rain and predators. Locate your butterfly garden in a sunny site; if you can't find a protected spot, plant a windbreak of mid-sized cultivars of dense conifers like spruce, juniper or cypress.

Step 2: Remember the Rocks

Invite butterflies to sunbathe. As cold-blooded insects, butterflies like to warm themselves in the sun. Create a few perches out of the wind; chances are you'll also see them resting on a sunny rock or on top of a fence post.

Step 3: Provide Water

Put a mixture of sand and soil in a plant saucer or a shallow bowl and add enough water to saturate the mixture thoroughly, but not so much that there's standing water. Butterflies like to rest on wet sand or soil and absorb moisture and minerals from it. If the "drinking station" dries out too fast in your climate, sink a bucket filled with a wet mixture of soil and sand into the ground.

Step 4: Add the Plants

Choose a wide range of flowering plants that differ in color, type of flower and bloom time to welcome multiple species and give them plenty of options. Butterflies feed on tubular flowers and they especially love those with "landing strips." Yarrow, stonecrop, coneflower, verbena, phlox, butterfly bush, butterfly weed (Asclepias), bee balm, cardinal flower (Lobelia), coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, Joe Pye weed, pentas, and various asters and sedums can keep your garden in butterfly blooms throughout the season.

It's not just the lovely adults you want to attract: you want the babies, too. The best butterfly habitat is a diverse landscape. Depending on the species, butterflies need particular host plants for laying eggs. You may think of plants like milkweed, wild mustard and nettles as weeds, but for some butterfly species, that's food for the young caterpillars.

Step 5: Avoid Using Pesticides

Treat your landscape like the miniature ecosystem that it is, banning the use of insecticides and herbicides. With a diversity of plant material, you're not likely to attract large numbers of plant pests, and you'll also be protecting natural predators.

Next Up

Create a Small-Scale Butterfly Garden

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Attracting Butterflies to the Garden

Welcome these colorful winged creatures to your garden. Find out which flowers they prefer and how to make a butterfly bath.

Quick and Dirty: Shedding a Light on Butterfly Gardens

If you’re looking to lure butterflies to your backyard, you have to start like they do: with the caterpillar.

Butterfly Garden Design

Plant a garden that caters to butterflies, and you’ll be rewarded with flitting, fluttering color—along with drifts of flowers.

Think Outside the Pot: Plant a Container Butterfly Garden

Lure butterflies right to your door with a collection of containers filled with nectar-rich flowers.

Learn About the Monarch Butterfly's Fall Migration

Make way for monarchs! These pretty butterflies migrate each fall to spend winter where frosts won’t find them. Read on to see where you can experience this incredible annual migration.

Surround Yourself With a Pollinator-Friendly Garden

See how you can help butterflies and bees thrive.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Learn more about the easter tiger swallowtail butterfly.

Nectar Sources for Butterflies

Check out these plant options for drawing in and nourishing butterflies in your garden.

Planting for Pollinators

Bring beneficial birds, bees and butterflies to your garden by growing plants and flowers they love.

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