How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden
As part of our National Pollinator Week blog series, we’re featuring one of nature’s most interesting pollinators – butterflies – and offering a quick primer to help you build an incredible butterfly garden.
Gardeners are artists who create living works of art. With the right light and flowers, your yard can be an amazing canvas for novice and experienced gardeners alike. You can design a space with colorful flowers that beautify your landscape, build a potted herb garden that fills your kitchen with a delicious aroma, or cultivate vegetables to feed your family.
Butterfly gardens are another way to add a layer of interest and excitement to your outdoor areas. Watching a butterfly’s wings flutter from flower to flower is a beautiful and satisfying experience. You can observe, record while you study behavior, and take pictures for viewing later. Additionally, if you create a butterfly garden, you directly contribute to the conservation of one of nature’s most interesting pollinators.
In this blog post, we walk through the benefits of a butterfly garden, how to create an ideal environment, and which plants will attract butterflies to your space. Already have one? Post some photos and tag us on social @PlantTAGG to share ways you’re celebrating pollinators this week.
Benefits of a Butterfly Garden
A butterfly garden has many benefits, including increasing the butterfly population. Butterflies are important pollinators that offer many advantages:
- Serve as pollinators – When butterflies travel from flower to flower, they spread the pollen necessary for plants to reproduce.
- Cut down on pesticide usage – Having a butterfly garden contributes to the elimination of pesticides, which is good for the environment and helps to attract other beneficial insects to your garden.
- Assists with the circle of life – Butterflies and caterpillars are food for many other animals, and an area that is thriving with butterflies also benefits species higher on the food chain.
- Educational tool – The transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly is an amazement of nature and helps us to learn about wildlife.
- Bring enjoyment to our lives – Watching butterflies flit about observing the varied colors can cause us to feel joy.
How to Build a Butterfly Garden
- Nectar – Butterflies love the nectar in particular flowers, which is why those flowers make great additions to your butterfly garden. We list several examples below.
- Water – Besides nectar, butterflies also need water to drink. Consider placing flat rocks or shallow containers where rainwater can collect (or that you can fill), and butterflies can access easily.
- Food source – When you have a butterfly garden, you must support the entire life cycle, from caterpillar to butterfly. One way to help it is by having a food source (nectar) for mature butterflies and having food (host plants) for caterpillars to eat.
- Sun – Of course, you want to pick a sunny location for your garden to help keep your butterflies warm as they bask in the sunlight.
- Shelter from the wind and predators – Butterflies are delicate insects that like to be protected from the elements and predators. Construct your garden in such a way that natural features allow spaces for butterflies to hide and rest. You could consider building a butterfly house to provide safety and shelter.
- A place to lay their eggs – Remember, having a flourishing butterfly garden also means sustaining caterpillars. The host plants you put in your garden will serve as their food and as a place where butterflies can lay eggs.
- A pesticide-free space – If you want to keep butterflies around, it is best not to use pesticides in the area as they can harm the caterpillars and the butterfly eggs.
Selecting Plants for Your Butterfly Garden
We’ve already discussed some of the essential aspects of creating a favorable setting for your butterfly garden, such as choosing the right location. Now let’s get to the fun part – selecting plants for your garden! Here are a few to get you started.
Butterfly bush is a colorful shrub with tiny flowers that grow in clusters. The flowers bloom mid-summer with variations of purple, orange, yellow and white. The scent and nectar attract butterflies. It grows well in fertile well-watered soil and requires frequent watering after replanting if rain is not sufficient. However, after catching root, the plants can survive with little watering. It’s best to plant many bushes together to achieve an aesthetic appeal. Butterfly bushes can grow more than ten feet, and pruning is necessary to contain their growth.
Chrysanthemums are native to Asia, but they are one of the most popular flowers in American gardens. They are beautiful flowers with color and size variations. The flowers have tiny clustered petals that create a perfect mum bloom for butterfly landing. The plant grows close to the ground and is great for both small and large gardens. You can plant them late in spring to give the plant more time to grow and in early summer to expose the flowers to sunshine. Well-drained soils with even moisture and plenty of fertilizer are the best way to produce beautiful mums. You can plant chrysanthemum in pots and move them around in full bloom as well.
Butterfly weed is a variety of milkweed preferred by butterflies. The plant has clusters of small orange flowers that bloom in full sun. It’s also known by other names, including Indian paintbrush, orange root, and orange milkweed. Butterfly weed flourishes in a wide range of conditions and is best grown through direct sowing. The plant is drought-resistant and suitable for any sunny garden. After watering for the first season, it can thrive on its own without fertilization.
Chives are great for cooking or ornamental purposes. The purple flowers provide nectar for butterflies and do very well when grown in clusters to attract butterflies. The plant can survive with minimal care almost everywhere in the United States.
Asters are perennial wildflowers that grow in varying soils and climates. They can survive in autumn while other flowers fade and also thrive in cool night temperatures. In warmer areas, asters thrive best with shade from the hot sun. Asters provide nectar for butterflies and foliage for caterpillars, so they are a great addition to a butterfly garden.
Salvia adds excellent color and height to your garden. The plant produces long spikes of blue or white flowers that bloom in fall and summer. In the north, salvia grows as an annual, but it grows perennially in warmer climates. They thrive in well-drained soils and resist drought, which makes them ideal for summer gardens. Salvia varies in height, but some can grow more than four feet, making them one of the tallest plants on our list!
Lantana is an annual shrub that works well in any garden. It tolerates heat and attracts butterflies with colorful clusters of nectar-filled flowers. The flowers have a kaleidoscope of colors, which makes them an ideal way to add color to any landscape. You can use Lantana for fencing and hedges, and they require very little maintenance.
Other flowers to consider planting in your butterfly garden:
Nectar Producing Plants:
· Black-eyed Susan
· Joe-Pye Weed
· Mint family (several different varieties)
Nectar Producing Plants and Foliage for Caterpillars:
Foliage for Caterpillars:
· Pipe Vine
· Grasses (several different varieties)
Creating a stunning and beneficial butterfly garden is a great way to promote hours of enjoyment for yourself and the butterflies that call it home.
If you’re looking for help in getting your butterfly garden set up, your local IGC is a great place to start. Walk around the store and see what jumps out at you. Talk to the experts in store – and you can use our ‘Ask an Expert’ feature right in the PlantTAGG app. We’ll help you discover the best plants for your butterfly garden based on your location and garden size. PlantTAGG also makes sure you know exactly how and when to prune, fertilize and water your specific plants so that you can enjoy your butterfly garden for many years to come!