Butterfly Garden 101: How to Attract More Butterflies to Your Garden

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.

monarch butterfly on pink coneflower

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 Garden Essentials


  • 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 as 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.


swallowtail butterfly on marigold flower

Pick Plants Butterflies Love

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


  • Annuals with bright sunny flowers can provide nectar throughout the warm season with their continuous blooms. Zinnias and marigolds are a favorite!
  • Perennials like coneflowers, butterfly weed, and asters are also great favorites of butterflies. 
  • Wildflower mixes designed for your area contain a wonderful variety of flowers that can attract your local pollinators.
  • Butterflies also love flowering herbs, especially those in the mint family.

Maintaining Butterfly Gardens

One last note: Be careful when clearing out your butterfly garden. Don’t sweep everything completely clean! 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. Leave some habitat behind for the butterflies.

Monarch butterfly on red zinnia flower

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.

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