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Planning A Backyard Butterfly Garden

Updated on July 26, 2017

Learning what types of flowers will attract which butterflies can greatly increase your chances of seeing butterflies in your yard. Without actually creating a garden specifically for attracting butterflies, use these tips to draw unique and colorful butterflies to your own backyard.

Attracting and Feeding Butterflies:

The surest way of getting butterflies into your backyard, is planting native plants from your area. Butterflies and plants have co-evolved and depend on each other for reproduction and survival. Knowing what plants attract which butterflies can help you decide which native plants to introduce into your yard.

Not only are the plant types important, but color is equally as important. Only having a few flowers in attractive colors is less likely to attract butterflies than having clusters or groups of brightly colored flowers. Butterfly adults are attracted to yellow, orange, red, purple, and pink blossoms that are flat or clustered with short flower tubes.

Planting plants for butterfly caterpillars is also essential to bringing butterflies to your yard. Many think that caterpillars cause leaf damage, however butterfly caterpillars only eat a very limited amount of plants and do not cause major damage like the moth caterpillars.

Host plants are another essential item in butterfly gardens. Butterflies only lay their eggs on certain plants. Providing these plants insures that butterflies will continue to stay, live, and grow in your garden. Creating a habitat for each stage of the butterflies life is essential in keeping the butterflies around your yard or garden.

Butterfly Garden
Butterfly Garden | Source

Garden Layout: Designing for Butterflies

  • Butterflies require sunlight to warm their wings for flight. Plant tall species at the back of your flower beds and at adjoining property lines to create more sun areas and windbreaks. Planting compatible trees, shrubs, and flowers by their needs for moisture/dryness or sun/shade offers shelter, shade, and wind protection for caterpillars and butterflies. By mimicking nature's natural designs you can provide a living refuge for caterpillars and butterflies to reside.
  • Shallow sand puddles for drinking and pulling up minerals is essential for butterflies. Typically butterflies will only feed in the sun. Like wise providing flat surfaces for the butterflies to rest and bask in the sun provide better habitat for butterflies that may come into your yard. Adding decorative stones can be an easy way to add surface area for butterflies as well as keeping the look and layout of your yard or garden decorative and functional. As butterflies cannot drink from open water it is necessary to provide these wet puddles for drinking.
  • Plants and butterflies have evolved to mutually benefit from each other. Many plants advertise their nectar with fragrance yet others entice butterflies by providing convenient landing platforms. Flowers benefit when the butterflies move pollen from female to male flowers resulting in new plants.

To create a garden that is relatively stable once established, choose perennials which come back every year from overwintering roots. The Blanketflower is an annual flower that self-sows, meaning it can propogate on its own. You will still need to weed and thin plants, however you will have little to worry about in the way of planting new flowers.

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Pipevine SwallowtailZebra HeliconianCalifornia SisterGulf Fritillary
Pipevine Swallowtail
Pipevine Swallowtail | Source
Zebra Heliconian
Zebra Heliconian | Source
California Sister
California Sister | Source
Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary | Source

Attracting Butterflies of North America:


-Pipevine Swallowtail: Feeds solely on Pipevines none of which are native to Wisconsin. In recent years sightings in Madison and Milwaukee have been made, mainly associated with the plantings of Dutchmans Pipevine.


-Zebra Heliconian: Feeds on nectar and pollen from lantana and shepherd's needle primarily. Lives in tropical hammocks and on the edges of fields.


-California Sister: Primarily comes to mud and rotting fruit, however will occasionally come to flowers in fall months. Can be found throughout California, Oregon, and Washington often along edges of woods and small streams.


-Gulf Fritillary: Feeds on nectar lantana, cordia's, shepherd's needle, and others. Found in city gardens, open fields, and pastures.

Many of these butterflies can be found elsewhere in North America due to migration. Taking into consideration butterfly habitat and food patterns, you can greatly increase your likelihood of bringing these wonderful creatures into your backyard or garden. Many of these butterflies live near the edges of woody areas, however that does not mean that you cannot lure them into your yard. Plant bright and colorful flowers with easy to get to nectar in sunny spots and watch the varieties of butterflies come.


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