Butterfly Gardens: How to Create A Sanctuary For Butterflies

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Butterfly gardens are a fantastic way to add vibrant color to your space and attract beneficial pollinators. They create a charming space for you to relax and unwind and play a vital role in supporting the local butterfly population. And it’s so easy to design your butterfly garden. With some planning, you can transform any outdoor space, big or small, into a paradise for you and the butterflies.

This guide will take you through all the exciting steps of creating and caring for your butterfly garden, from selecting the perfect plants to adding an essential water source. And don’t worry; we will also share tips on avoiding harmful pesticides that negatively affect butterfly populations.

So, whether you have a tiny balcony or a sprawling backyard, with a little imagination and effort, you can create a breathtaking butterfly garden that will bring joy to you and the winged wonders for years to come.

Butterflies feeding on flowers.

Step 1: Choose Butterfly-Friendly Flowers

Butterflies are attracted to brightly colored pink, purple, yellow, orange, and red flowers. They also prefer flat-topped or clustered flowers, such as daisies and asters. Butterflies are also attracted to flowers with a strong fragrance, such as lavender and butterfly bushes.

Choose multiple plants that will bloom at different times throughout the growing season.

It’s important to note that each region of the world may have different species of butterflies, and their preferred flowers may vary. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to research which butterfly species are in your area and their specific food preferences if you want to attract a particular species. 

Butterflies feeding on flowers.

Step 2: Include Nectar Plants and Caterpillar Host Plants To Your Butterfly Sanctuary.

To provide plant diversity in your butterfly garden, you will want to add different colors, flower shapes, and heights.

You can attract more butterflies with these specific garden plant suggestions rich in flower nectar.

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These Nectar-Rich Plants Attract Lots of Butterflies!

Adult butterflies are attracted to a variety of nectar-rich flowering plants, which provide them with the energy they need to fly and reproduce. Here are some popular nectar-rich flowers to add to your butterfly garden that you can either start from seed or pick up from a garden center in late spring:

Lantana:

This tropical plant produces clusters of brightly colored flowers that bloom all season long. Lanatan is a nectar plant.

Zinnias: 

Zinnias are garden plant workhorses and make welcome additions to butterfly gardens. The flowers come in various bright, bold colors that butterflies are attracted to, such as red, orange, and yellow. They also have large flat-topped flowers loaded with nectar, making them an ideal food source for butterflies. They also bloom all summer long, providing a consistent food source.

Zinnias are also incredibly easy to grow from seed, are low maintenance, and make wonderful cut flowers.

Black-Eyed Susan:

This wildflower produces bright yellow and orange flowers that are irresistible to butterflies. Black-eyed Susans are native plants that are a welcome food source for local butterflies.

Verbena: 

These colorful and fragrant flowers bloom all season long, making them an excellent choice for a long-lasting butterfly garden.

Butterfly Bush: 

These tall and striking plants produce clusters of fragrant flowers in shades of pink, purple, blue, and white. It might be obvious from the name, but a great way to attract butterflies is to plant a butterfly bush. But do check that butterfly bush is not invasive in your area before you plant.

Pot Marigolds:

Pot marigolds, also known as Calendula, are popular annual flowers that attract droves of fluttering butterflies.

The bright orange and yellow flowers bloom in the summer and fall and provide a late-season nectar source for adult butterflies. Calendula flowers are easy to grow and are drought-tolerant, making them a great option for butterfly gardens in hot zones.

Goldenrod: 

Goldenrod is a beautiful tall perennial wildflower and a popular nectar source for butterflies. The bright yellow flowers of goldenrod are highly attractive to adult butterflies. The flowers bloom in late summer and fall and attract many different butterflies.

Goldenrod is also an important source of nectar for bees and other pollinators.

Blazing Star Flowers

Blazing star flowers produce tall spikes of bright purplish-pink or white flowers in late spring and continue to bloom right into fall. The wonderful back-of-the-border perennials are very attractive to butterflies as they provide a long-lasting food source throughout the growing season.

Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye weed is a perennial wildflower that is both drought-tolerant and deer resistant and can grow in many different types of soil.

The light purple-pink flowers bloom in late summer and attract many different types of pollinators. The large clusters of pink, purple, or white bloom in late summer and are easily accessible food sources for local butterflies.

A macro shot of monarch butterflies feeding on a pink phlox in the garden.

Dont Forget to Add Plants for Butterfly Larvae

Butterflies need specific plants to lay their eggs and for their caterpillars to feed on.

Here is a list of some popular plants that provide food for butterfly caterpillars:

  • Milkweed plant:  Monarch butterflies.
  • Parsley, Dill, Fennel: Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.
  • Clover:  Clouded Sulphur and Orange Sulphur.
  • Blackberry: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.
  • Willows:  Caterpillars of the Mourning Cloak butterfly.
  • Asters: Caterpillars of the Eastern Tailed-Blue butterfly.
  • Oaktree: Caterpillars of the Giant Swallowtail butterfly.
  • Violets: Caterpillars of the Falcate Orangetip butterfly.

Note: Not all butterfly species feed on the same garden plants, and their preferences can vary depending on their location.

Monarch butterfly feeding on purple aster flower in summer floral background. Monarch butterflies in autumn blooming asters.

Step 3: Provide Butterfly Watering Stations To Attract Butterflies

Puddling stations are important additions to your butterfly garden and should not be overlooked during the planning stage.

Butterflies need access to water to keep hydrated and lay their eggs. A shallow dish filled with water and a few small flat rocks or twigs will do the trick.

Blue and black butterfly on a dew covered orange flower.

Step 4: Include Sheltered Areas In Your Butterfly Habitat

Butterfly habitat is where butterflies can find food, shelter, and a place to lay their eggs. These habitats range from natural areas like meadows, wetlands, and prairies to artificial gardens and butterfly houses.

Butterflies are cold-blooded insects and need appropriate shelter to stay warm when the temperature drops, so provide a bit of shelter when you plan your butterfly garden.

Orange Monarch Butterfly on bright orange butterfly weed flowers.

Step 5: Avoid Using Pesticides Around Your Butterfly Gardens

Butterflies are sensitive to pesticides, so be sure to use natural methods for pest control. You can also plant plants that attract beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings, which will help keep pests under control.

Pesticides will kill butterflies on contact. Even organic pesticides can harm butterflies, so it is best to avoid them altogether in your butterfly garden.

Important note about pesticides: Any chemical pesticide spray has the potential to travel up to 2 km away from the target area. 

Swallowtail Butterfly feeding on a purple cone flower.

Step 6: Watch For Adult Butterflies, their Eggs, and Caterpillars:

When you see an adult butterfly lay eggs on a plant, leave that plant in place so the caterpillars can hatch and feed. As they grow, they will form chrysalids and eventually emerge as butterflies.

Infographic showing popular butterfly species of North America and what their cattapillar stages look like.
Image provided by wildpraireimages

All You Potential Butterfly Gardeners, Let’s Get Planting!

Butterfly gardening is a fun and rewarding experience. With some planning and care, anyone can create a safe and resource-rich spot for butterflies to return to year after year.

We have loads of gardening information for you to check out:

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