How to Create a Butterfly Garden

Did you know that you can create your butterfly garden in your backyard? Once you know a little about what butterflies need and how you can attract them to your garden, the rest will be easy to do.

With a butterfly garden, you are doing more than just creating a natural environment where you can see butterflies. You take part in the conservation of pollinators needed for plants to grow.

When you construct a butterfly garden, you are building a sanctuary for many species to grow and multiply. You also make beautiful surroundings for your family. This article looks at the steps you can take to create your own butterfly garden.

What You Need

for butterfly gardens

Setting up a butterfly garden can be done in any location, be it your backyard, raised deck, or even on your front steps. Butterflies or pollinators will visit your garden spot with different species merging and multiplying. Below are the four basic elements needed for an ideal location.

1. Sunlight

Your spot must have 5-6 hours of full direct sunlight daily. Butterflies are cold-blooded and like to seek warmth in the morning. Placing large rocks exposed to the sun is a good place for butterflies to warm up. The rocks easily absorb the heat of the sun.

2. Water

Create a puddling station by filling a shallow dish with gravel or sea sand. You can bury the dish up to the rim in the ground, then fill it with water to dampen it. A butterfly usually gets water from nectar, tree sap, or dew. But they will use the puddle station in the hottest part of the day.

3.  Shelter

Butterflies do not like shady areas but add a few trees and shrubs to block the wind. The shelter protects the butterflies from predators at night.  The trees and shrubs are a food source for caterpillars.  You can opt to use butterfly houses or boxes for their roosting time.

4. Pesticide-Free Space

Butterflies are very sensitive to pesticides and will avoid nearby areas fertilized with chemicals. An option is to use natural and organic fertilizers to avoid harming the caterpillars or the butterflies.

5. Plant Variety

A plant combination of perennials, nectar-rich flowers, and shrubs will create a vibrant and healthy garden. It will help with the feeding habits of the butterfly and encourage the life cycle of these very important pollinators for the environment.

6. Alternative Food

Nectar is not available all season long, so other sources of food are needed for butterflies to feed on. Alternative foods like sweet liquids or mushy fruits are their favorites. Remember to replace this frequently to discourage wasps, ants, and bees from approaching the food source. 

Plants Needed for Butterfly Gardens


There are two kinds of plants needed for butterflies to grow and multiply; those that a caterpillar can feed on, and those that are suitable for butterflies to get nourishment. For the plants to grow properly, the soil must drain well and be rich in organic matter. 

You can add compost and nutrients to enrich the soil. Choose native plants that easily grow in the region and attract native butterflies that will likely show up in your garden. Here are some plants you could choose from when creating your butterfly garden.

  • Perennials – Milkweed, Coneflowers, Hyssop, Asters, Liatris
  • Flowering Shrubs – Viburnum, Scaevola, Sweetspire, Elderberry
  • Nectar – Rich Flowers – Pentas, Cosmos, Lantana, Petunias, Zinnias

Attracting Different Butterfly Species

different butterflies

The secret to butterfly gardens is a variety of larval host plants and nectar-rich plants that will bring your garden into full activity.  You can attract the different butterfly species by putting together their favorite larval host plants and preferred nectar-rich flowers in a sunny location.

Butterfly SpeciesLarval Host PlantNectar-Rich Plant
Swallowtail ButterflyDill, Fennel, Parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, RueMilkweed, Butterfly weed, Butterfly bush, Joe Pye weed, Phlox, Ironweed
Tiger Swallowtail ButterflyCherry trees, Ash trees, Willow trees, Birch trees, Tulip treesButterfly weed, Butterfly bush, Joe Pye weed, Ironweed, Purple Coneflower, Blazing Star, Oregano, Zinnia, Lilac
Monarch ButterflyMilkweedMilkweed, Asters, Butterfly bush, Sedum, Verbena, Ironweed
Painted Lady ButterflyAsters, Hollyhock, Ironweed, MallowsAsters, Tickseed Sunflower, Butterfly bush, Mexican Sunflower, Brazilian Vervain, Chaste tree, common Zinnia
Gulf FritillariesPassionflower vines, Maypops, yellow PassionflowerAsters, Pentas, Verbena, Zinnia

How to Encourage Butterflies to Your Garden

You can start your garden with nectar plants to entice butterflies to visit your garden. It will attract those fluttering around to stop and feed, but this does not guarantee the butterflies will take up residency in your garden.

The two types of plants, both host and nectar plants, will allow your butterflies to mate, feed, lay eggs, and grow into maturity.

·      Host Plants


A host plant lures female butterflies by releasing the plant’s chemical cues.  When a butterfly locates the host plant, they begin laying eggs.  Male butterflies tend to linger nearby because they find many females ready for mating.  The presence of host plants offers a promise of food for the caterpillar or the next generation that will attract more butterflies to your garden.

·      Nectar-Rich Plants

butterfly garden

Searching for and finding a mate near a host plant can be a tiring activity for a butterfly.  Adult butterflies need to keep their energy as they go about their business.  They feed on the nectar-rich plant for sustenance.  When you match a specific plant to the butterfly species, you ensure a garden that’s bustling with activity.

Butterfly Homes in the Garden

butterfly home
Wooden Insect House for Butterflies. See price here.

Butterfly houses are tall, narrow wooden boxes with slats measuring 3-inches and half-inch wide cut into front.  You can add a piece of tree bark inside the home for the butterfly to cling to.  The wooden house should be attached to a tree or anchored to a pole or post 4 feet tall. Ensure it has full sunlight, but next to a shed to block it from strong winds and wild movements.

FAQ’s about Butterfly Gardens

1. What is a butterfly garden?

A butterfly garden is a garden specifically designed to attract and support butterfly populations. It typically contains a variety of flowering plants that provide nectar for adult butterflies and host plants for their caterpillars.

2. What are some good plants to include in a butterfly garden?

Some good plants to include in a butterfly garden are milkweed, butterfly bush, coneflower, black-eyed Susan, and verbena.

3. How do I attract butterflies to my garden?

To attract butterflies to your garden, plant a variety of flowering plants that provide nectar and host plants for their caterpillars. Also, provide a shallow water source, like a birdbath, for them to drink from.

4. What are some common butterflies found in butterfly gardens?

Some common butterflies found in butterfly gardens are monarchs, swallowtails, painted ladies, and fritillaries.

5. How do I care for my butterfly garden?

To care for your butterfly garden, water it regularly, prune plants as needed, remove dead or diseased plant material, and avoid using pesticides.

6. How can I help conserve butterfly populations?

You can help conserve butterfly populations by creating a butterfly garden, avoiding pesticide use, supporting organizations that protect butterflies and their habitats, and educating others about the importance of butterflies in the ecosystem.

Wrapping Up

When you create your butterfly garden, you will see firsthand how nature works together so that both plants and animals or winged insects help to make a healthy ecosystem. Your butterfly garden will provide food to the pollinators, which helps in the growth of young new plants.

You can start your butterfly garden using local plants to attract the local butterflies.  But you can also be adventurous by selecting host and nectar plants to attract other butterfly species. All you must do is ensure you have the right elements needed to create a butterfly garden, and soon enough you will see many beautiful butterflies making it their home.