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Butterfly Gardens: How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden

Updated on October 4, 2017
Anthony Altorenna profile image

I like spending time in the garden, around the house, fishing,and in the workshop. Many of the projects in my articles are original designs.

Even small container gardens can attract butterflies
Even small container gardens can attract butterflies | Source

Inviting Butterflies to Visit Your Garden

Planting A Butterfly Garden: Butterflies are beautiful creatures, and every gardener enjoys seeing these delightful insects fluttering around the blooms in their gardens.

Monarch and swallowtail butterflies are among the most recognized butterflies, and attracting these beauties into your garden will also invite many other types of butterflies to visit. Planting a butterfly friendly garden will bring in the locals which might include spicetails, painted ladies and red admirals. Plant a few different types of the plants and flowers that they like to eat, both as caterpillars and then later on as adults, offer them water and shelter, and the butterflies will come.

Planting a butterfly garden does not require a lot of space, and many nectar providing annuals and perennials can be grown successfully in window boxes and containers. Planting the different types of flowers and plants that butterflies need for each phase of their life cycle, from laying eggs and feeding hungry caterpillars to the providing nectar for adults, ensures that these beautiful creatures will visit your garden year after year.

Planting a Butterfly Garden

Bug, Butterflies and Blooms
Bug, Butterflies and Blooms | Source

Plant a Flowering Perennial Garden

To increase the chances of attracting the local butterflies from the surrounding area into your garden, plant a variety of native flowering plants and shrubs. Butterflies are attracted to milkweed plants, and they also feed on the blooms of purple coneflowers, coreopsis and tickseeds, bee balm, and the popular buddleia butterfly bushes.

Many annuals offer nectar filled blooms that attract butterflies, including cosmos, marigolds and geraniums.

Adding native plants such as goldenrod, thistle and Joe Pye weed increases the diversity in the garden and provides natural food sources for attracting Monarchs and other butterflies.

Plant your butterfly garden in full sun. Entice the adult butterflies to visit your garden by offering the nectar from a mixture of annual and perennial flowers. Extending the blooms from different plants throughout the spring and summer will encourage butterflies to stay in the garden longer and perhaps, to lay their eggs and begin the cycle for the next generation of butterflies.

Commonly known as butterfly bushes, the flowering shrubs in the 'Buddleia' family are easy to grow and popular feeding sites for Monarchs, swallowtails and other butterflies and hummingbirds. Buddleia plants bloom profusely from mid-summer into fall, are available in a variety of colors from creamy whites, pale yellows and pink flowers, to light lavender and deep purples.

In our yard, the butterfly bushes with the yellow and dark purple blossoms seem to attract the most attention from a variety of different butterflies.

Butterflies and their larva like Milkweed
Butterflies and their larva like Milkweed | Source

Add Milkweeds

Monarch caterpillars feed almost exclusively on the leaves of the milkweed plant, and adults also feed on the nectar from the milkweed's flowers.

There are many different varieties of milkweed available, and planting several varieties of "Asclepias" extends the bloom periods for feeding adult Monarch butterflies. Choose from varieties including the common milkweed, the orange flowering butterfly weed (Asclepias Tuberose) which is also available with yellow blooms, and the swamp milkweed. The Mexican milkweed is tropical variety and grown as an annual in most locations.

Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants in late spring, and the tiny eggs hatch into caterpillars in about a week. The little caterpillars munch away at the leaves of the milkweed plants for three to four weeks, growing quickly before preparing to pupate.

After approximately two more weeks, a beautiful Monarch butterfly emerges to flitter across the garden in search of nectar.

Butterflies are attracted to brighly colored flowers with strong scents

Butterfly Gardening
Butterfly Gardening | Source

Avoid Pesticides

Broad spectrum pesticides and other poisonous chemicals kill butterflies and their caterpillars along with many other beneficial insects.

Not every bug is a pest, so take the time to learn the differences between the beneficial insects and the harmful bugs in your garden. Most pesticides do not discriminate between the pests and the unintended victims such as butterflies and other beneficial insects, wiping out the 'good' bugs as well as the target species.

Instead, use organic controls such as a blast of water from a garden hose or hand pick slugs and other nasty bugs. Oils and insecticidal soaps are also effective in targeting soft-bodied insects and aphids.

If chemical control is needed in certain areas, be careful to use pesticides targeted towards specific bugs. Do not spray pesticides on the flowers and shrubs in your butterfly garden.

Our pond offers a consistent water source
Our pond offers a consistent water source | Source

Provide a Water Source

Place a few small stepping stones on the bottom of a bird bath for the butterflies to land on when they need a drink of water.

Better yet, create a mud bath by filling a low pan with dirt and adding water to make a muddy mixture (an old Frisbee works well).

For a treat, a watermelon rind placed in the garden near nectar producing plants will attract thirsty Monarch butterflies.



Give Them Shelter

Butterflies need protection from the winds, cool nights and heavy rains. Butterflies take shelter among the leaves and branches of trees and shrubs, and under the protection of garden structures.

Monarch butterflies and other insects may also take refuge in a specially designed butterfly house, available at birding specialty stores, several online sources or build one yourself.

While entomologists and biologists question whether or not butterflies will actually use butterfly boxes to take shelter from the storm, every gardener will agree that butterfly boxes look great in the garden.

Make butterfly boxes from cedar or redwood, and let them weather naturally to a warm silvery gray. Or make the butterfly boxes out of inexpensive pine and paint them in bright colors.

How to Build A Butterfly House

Butterfly House Plans


Butterflies & Butterfly Bushes

Butterflies & Butterfly Bushes
Butterflies & Butterfly Bushes

Do You Encourage Butterflies To Visit Your Garden?

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Black Knight Butterfly Bush - Buddleia - Oldtimer/Hardy - 4" Pot
Black Knight Butterfly Bush - Buddleia - Oldtimer/Hardy - 4" Pot

Graceful gray-green foliage arches with flowers from summer into fall. The common name aptly describes this garden beauty. It does not wake up until late spring, but it's worth the wait! Flowers form on current growth. Should be cut back to 12-18" each spring. Will quickly grow backwith many flowering canes.


Butterfly Facts

Did You Know?

There are over 17,000 species of butterflies worldwide. More than 750 species of butterflies live in North America.

The smallest butterfly, the blue pigmy found in California, is less than inch in size. The largest butterfly is the Queen Alexandra of New Guinea, and can measure 12 inches from wingtip to wingtip.

Butterflies cannot eat, and can only drink. Used to sip nectar from flowers, the butterfly's long flexible tongue is called the proboscis.

Butterflies can see ultraviolet light, which aids them in their search for nectar-filled flowers. They are only active during the day, and rest at night in sheltered areas.

Butterflies cannot hear. They taste through their feet, and smell through their antenna.

Many types of butterflies have toxic chemicals in their bodies. Their brightly colored wings warn birds and other potential predators of their foul-tasting chemical defense.

Most adult butterflies live only 20 to 40 days. Some can live up to six months, though some live for only a few days.

Red Admiral & Brown-Eyed Susans

Red Admiral & Brown-Eyed Susans
Red Admiral & Brown-Eyed Susans

Attracting Butterflies Video - by P. Allen Smith

In this short video, Gardening Expert P. Allen Smith shows you how to attract butterflies to your backyard and to create a natural and butterfly safe environment.

A Visitor to Our Backyard Butterfly Garden

Butterflies just love blooms!
Butterflies just love blooms!

© 2011 Anthony Altorenna

Tell Us About the Butterflies in Your Garden

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    • paulahite profile image

      Paula Hite 3 years ago from Virginia

      I love butterflies! Lots of great info on your lens! I shared it on our Facebook page

    • SheilaSchnauzies profile image

      Sheila 4 years ago from Omaha, NE

      Amazing lens! If I could still bless lenses I would bless this one! I have about a dozen perennial gardens on our acre and I have several butterfly bushes and lots of butterfly attracting plants. This year I am adding some milkweed and more butterfly bushes. We mostly get Monarch, Swallowtail (my favorite!) and Painted Ladies here. Love the hummingbirds too!

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      I love having the beautiful butterfly soaring through my yard. Funny thing is that although we don't live near water it is the dragonfly that I most often see zipping past. They eat mosquitoes so that makes me perfectly happy.

    • Protasker profile image

      Barbara 5 years ago from USA

      Love the quiz! I take them every chance I get. Angel Blessed!

    • vegetablegardenh profile image

      vegetablegardenh 5 years ago

      Wonderful lens! I just added a link to it from my "beneficials" lens. And I liked your little quiz too.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I discovered that you have added a butterfly quiz here and I sure did not know that butterflies use their feet to taste their food, I'm amazed!

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 5 years ago from USA

      Beautiful lens. Thanks for the suggestions in attracting butterflies to our gardens. I will add some of these flowers.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      You know, spring is 6 weeks away and I can't think of a better way to get started by preparing to welcome butterflies, the jewels of the air to our gardens! Refreshing the angel dust while here.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Just stopping back to grab this again for my Butterflies Coloring Books Stained Glass Art, thanks for another great update Anthony!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Now featured on my Butterflies ClipArt & CD-ROM Books, thanks Anthony!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      When I had a garden I sure enjoyed attracting butterflies, the gems of the garden. I love your suggestions and only learned this year about planting milkweed for the Monarchs to feed on when young and as adults. Providing a mud bath for the butterflies is new to me and fun to learn and the watermelon rind for a drink treat would surly be appreciated.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Beautifully done.