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How to Plant a Butterfly Garden

Updated on September 5, 2014
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Jeanne Grunert is a full-time freelance writer, novelist, and garden communicator. She lives and works on a 17-acre farm in Virginia.

How to Make a Butterfly Garden

You can make a butterfly garden in your backyard, front yard, or even in pots and containers on an apartment balcony. The secret is to provide butterflies with the three things they need: food for adults, food for larvae, and shelter.

Butterflies help pollinate certain plants. They are beautiful and attractive, and butterfly gardens are fun for adults and children alike. The secret to making a butterfly garden is to choose the location for it carefully. Then, select plants with flowers adult butterflies like to visit. If you can add plants that feed their young, called larvae, so much the better, and as an added bonus, a little mud puddle or pool is a great addition to provide water for butterflies.

But no matter how much space you have, adding even a few plants that attract butterflies will make your yard or garden brighter and more beautiful.

Plan Your Butterfly Garden

My butterflu garden.
My butterflu garden.

To make a butterfly garden, first select a great spot for your butterfly garden. Most butterfly garden plants need full sun, which means bright, direct sunshine hitting a spot on the ground for six or more hours a day. Butterflies need warmth, and the plants that support butterflies need plenty of full sunlight, so you must make sure that the spot you choose for your butterfly garden gets plenty of sunlight.

Before planting flowers to make a butterfly garden, have the soil tested professionally. Your local County Cooperative Extension Office can guide you in how to take a soil sample. It's not too hard, but you do need to follow the directions carefully to make sure the sample is taken properly. There is a small fee for a soil test, which can vary based on your location.

The results of the soil test should include an analysis of soil pH, macro and micro nutrients, and other factors. The volunteers or staff at the Cooperative Extension Office will review the results of the test with you and provide you with guidelines and recommendations on how to get your soil in great shape to nurture and support plants for your butterfly garden.

If you're going to plant a butterfly garden in pots, containers or a window box, buy sterile potting soil at the local garden center. Make sure the container has good drainage; drill holes in the bottom of the pot and line it with rocks, then place the soil on top of the rocks. This helps extra water drain away.

Butterfly Bush

Buddleia or butterfly bush is an excellent, easy care shrub to attract butterflies. Here's a female Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly on a Buddleia in my garden (picture by the author).

Shrubs for Butterfly Gardens

Butterfly Bush
Butterfly Bush

Shrubs anchor the butterfly garden and provide it with major focal points. When you make a butterfly garden, choose shrubs that butterflies enjoy for food. Butterfly bushes also provide butterflies with resting places and shelter from the wind.

Butterflies love the so-called butterfly bush (Buddleia), a tall, fragrant and vigorous shrub that can be invasive in some parts of the country. It comes in white, lavender, dark purple and other shades. Butterfly bushes need plenty of room to grow. They can easily top six feet or taller, and need yearly pruning to maintain their shape and prevent overgrowth. They also seed freely, and you may have many young seedlings growing up and around the butterfly bush. These can be transplanted to other locations in the garden.

Other shrubs that butterflies like include any fragrant shrubs - crape myrtle, lilac, viburnum and other blooming shrubs.


Zinnias are an easy to grow annual flower. You can start them from seeds. They need full sun, well drained soil, and a little water when starting the seeds, but once they're mature, they resist some drought. (Photo by the author).

Amazon Spotlight Personal Review - Birds & Blooms Magazine

Birds & Blooms
Birds & Blooms

Birds and Blooms magazine isn't just about gardens that attract birds - it's also about growing flowers to attract butterflies. Beautiful pictures and an affordable magazine to help you enjoy your gardening hobby.


Flowers to Attract Butterflies

Annual and perennial flowers to attract butterflies include many native perennials as well as common annuals. Annuals are flowers that grow, bloom and seed in the same year; perennials return from year to year.

Great flowers to plant to attract butterflies include perennials such as:

- Alyssum

- Butterfly weed (Aesclepia)

- Cat Mint (Nepeta)

- Cardinal Flower

- Monarda

- Salvia

Annuals that butterflies love include:

- Alyssum

- Cosmos

- Lantana

- Marigolds

- Petunias

- Zinnias

Butterfly Garden Flowers


Choose flowers such as monarda, pictured here, for your butterfly garden.

Native Perennials for Butterfly Gardens

Native Perennials for Butterfly Gardens
Native Perennials for Butterfly Gardens

Native perennials are perennial flowers uniquely adapted to your local climate, called a gardening zone. Because they evolved alongside the local butterfly populations, many butterflies rely upon them for food, shelter, and food for their young. Daylilies and purple coneflower, also called Echinacea, are two such native perennials that butterflies love.

Lantana Attracts Butterflies


Lantana is an annual flower that works very well to attract butterflies.

Butterfly Gardens for Small Spaces

If you don't have a large yard or sunny backyard, how about growing a few flowers to attract butterflies in a container, pot, or window box? Lantana offers beautiful flowers that butterflies love. Dwarf zinnias or marigolds are inexpensive, can be grown directly from seeds, and attract butterflies. Just make sure that the pot, container or window box is in a sunny location, keep it well watered, and enjoy the butterflies!

Mix of Native Perennials to Attract Butterflies

Native Perennial Butterfly Garden
Native Perennial Butterfly Garden

This mixture of native perennials works well to attract butterflies. It includes yellow coneflower (coneflower can be purple, white or yellow), purple coneflower, and daylilies.

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    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 3 years ago

      Lovely garden. Not my favorite flowers but the butterflies make it worthwhile to plant some.