How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden

Published on March 12, 2021

One of the most popular pollinators is the butterfly! These colorful insects are a delight to home gardeners. They are beneficial to your plants and the entire ecosystem, but they also bring joy and color into the garden.

Maybe you want to create a dedicated butterfly garden, or maybe you just want a garden that’s friendly to these gorgeous insects.

If you want to attract butterflies, you’ll need to think like a butterfly.

butterfly in garden

Here are some basics a butterfly needs to feel at home:

  • Sun – Butterflies are solar-powered! They can only fly when their body temperature is 85° F or higher. They like rocks to perch on and spread their wings to collect warmth from the sun.
  • Protection from wind – No one likes a drafty home, but butterflies especially need protection from being blown about.
  • Water – Male butterflies like mud puddles. They collect minerals from these puddles to give as a gift to the female butterflies during mating. Creating a permanent mud puddle or area of wet sand can fill this need.
  • Safety from pesticides – Try to avoid using any pesticides, especially insecticides. If you must do so, be sparing in your use and make sure to choose something that isn’t harmful to butterflies. Remember that caterpillars will chew up the host plants.
  • Host plants – Each species has particular needs for host plants. For example, the monarch butterfly only will use milkweeds for a host plant. You’ll need to do a little research to find out what butterflies are native to your area and what host plants they prefer. These may be trees or shrubs. Remember that caterpillars will live and feed on these plants. If all goes well, they’ll form their chrysalis and emerge as a butterfly on this host plant, too.
  • Nectar plants – Flowers that produce nectar provide food for the butterfly. They love bright colors, and groups of plants with similar colors will attract more butterflies. The field of orange, or red, is easier for the butterfly to see.

Flowering trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals all have a place in the butterfly garden, as host plants, or as food.

Annuals with bright sunny flowers can provide nectar throughout the warm season with their continuous blooms. Perennials like coneflowers, butterfly weed, and asters are also great favorites of butterflies.

butterfly-friendly garden

Wildflower mixes designed for your area contain a wonderful variety of flowers that can attract your local pollinators. Butterflies love flowering herbs, especially those in the mint family.

One last note…

Be careful when clearing out your butterfly garden. Dead flower heads and foliage on plants can contain eggs or pupating butterflies. You’ve already decided that you’re willing to sacrifice some plants to the very hungry caterpillars, right?

This is the same idea.

If you want a truly butterfly-friendly garden, be prepared to accept that everything won’t be perfectly pristine. When you see butterflies flock to your garden, you’ll agree that a little bit of messiness is worth it.


 

Resources:
A dozen design tips for butterfly gardens
How To Make Butterfly Gardens
Gardening for Butterflies
Butterfly gardening basics
Butterfly gardening

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