How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden

When I first started my garden, I wanted to attract butterflies. Over the years I have planted a wide diversity of plants that attract butterflies and allow them to complete their life cycle in the garden. During the summer there are always plenty of butterflies to be found by visitors.

It is important when starting a butterfly garden to have a sunny garden spot not only for the plants but also the butterflies. Butterflies need the sun to keep them warm so they can fly. They fly best at 85 to 100 degrees F. They also need an area that is sheltered from the wind. Warm, protected and sunny areas are important for your butterflies to feed, mate and lay eggs. Your butterfly garden should provide a place for shelter for species that overwinter as adults. These areas are crevices, log piles, trees or a butterfly box.

To attract butterflies you need to plant flowers that provide nectar for them. Here are some examples:
  • Butterfly bush
  • Asters
  • Globe thistle
  • Joe-Pye Weed
  • Phlox
  • Liatris
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Bee Balm
  • Heliotrop
  • Marigold
  • Catmint
  • Lantana
  • Coreopsis
  • Lavender

Remember that many vines, shrubs and trees also attract different types of butterflies as nectar or larval food.

It is a good idea to purchase a book on butterflies that will give you specifics on each butterflies nectar or larval plant needs depending on your location. A good book for this is "Stokes Butterfly Book" by Donald and Lillian Stokes and Ernest Williams.

Monarch butterfly

Caterpillar of the Silver-spotted Skipper butterfly

If you want even more butterflies in your garden, provide larval food for caterpillars. Caterpillars require a completely different food than adult butterflies. Caterpillars eat the leaves and sometimes flowers or seeds of certain plants. The adult female butterfly chooses the plant that will be the food for her offsprings and lays her eggs on it.

Once the eggs hatch the caterpillar begins to feed on the plant. Most larval foods are weeds, wildflowers, vegetables and herbs. Again you will want to use a good book to get a list of larval foods that you can grow based on the butterflies in your area or zone.

NEVER use pesticides in the butterfly garden because you will also rid your garden of butterflies along with the other pests. Never use BT or Bacillus thuringiensis because it will kill your butterfly caterpillars.

I also provide places for butterflies to find water. This can simply be a flower pot saucer with rock or sand in the bottom and a small amount of water. You will need to have some of the sand or rock exposed for the butterflies to stand on. Check the water supply daily.

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on a Butterfly Bush

Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly on Bronze Fennel

Interesting facts about butterflies:

  • Butterfly wings are covered in scales. These scales absorb heat from the sun. Scale can also produce scents for courtship in some male butterflies. The scales comes off easily which can allow a butterfly to escape from a predator.

  • Some species of butterflies taste bad to predators, because of this, other butterflies have evolved to look similar in order to be avoided by predators who have learned who taste "good" and who "taste" bad.

  • The Monarch that migrates from your garden to Mexico will not return to your garden. It will be the 3rd or 4th generation of that butterfly that returns.

  • There are about 17,000 species of butterflies in the world.

  • In North America, we have about 700 species of butterflies.

  • Female White butterflies only lay their eggs on plants of the mustard family. Remember that those caterpillars on your cabbage and broccoli plants are White butterflies. Plant some extra for you and some for the butterflies.

  • A female butterfly uses sight, taste and smell to locate the plants to lay her eggs on. Taste is the most important.

    Black Swallowtail butterfly

    Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

For more information on Monarch butterflies and inviting them into your garden, check out "Monarch Watch". The site for it is located on my blog under the heading of "Helpful Gardening Links for the Gardener"

Consider the idea of planting a butterfly garden and then you can enjoy the butterflies that come to visit in your garden.

The Creative Gardener


Gail said…
Beautiful Debbie...I am so glad you stopped by to see the Tulips and the no-show snow! Love this post and the great information. Bronze fennel is one of my favorites to attract smells delicious when they are nibbling on it!

Could you send just a few inches of your beautiful snow my way! No more please and I only want it to stay for about 24 hours!

Have a good weekend.

Barbarapc said…
Isn't it nice to think about butterflies when everything is covered in snow. I'm working on attracting birds at the moment - still no takers at my finch feeder. I'm always dazzled to see the butterflies swoop in in August - they just seem to dance over the different varieties of eupatorium I've grown for them.
Brian said…
Very informative blog.
keep up the great job.

Susie said…
Hello, I enjoyed scrolling thru your wonderful blog. This past summer I had the pleasure of feeding black swallowtail caterpillars on my parsley and finding their cocoons on nearby plants. It was great!
Anonymous said…
What an interesting and informative post Debbie! And the photos of all the butterflies were gorgeous. Thanks for visiting my blog today, it was nice to meet you! :)
cherry said…
Hey Debbie I love your blog all the beautiful pictures have me wishing for spring.
Happy groundhog day no shadows here so it won't be long now ...woohoo