Butterfly Gardens

Butterfly gardens provide food and sanctuary for many vibrant species of Lepidoptera. This type of garden can be planted in even the busiest urban location. Offering even a small habitat can help support the butterfly population in your area. A container garden consisting of a few carefully selected bushes and flowering plants may be all it takes to attract these winged visitors to your home. If you have more space available, you can plan a butterfly garden complete with a walking path and outdoor seating for maximum enjoyment.

Selecting & Caring For Host Plants

Indigenous plants are often the best choice for butterfly gardens. These shrubs and flowers are simple to grow since they are already compatible with the soil type, texture, and pH in your area. This means you will only have to worry about ensuring adequate sunlight, water, and drainage for your plants. You may also consider adding compost once a year to replace any lost nutrients. Don’t use pesticides.

Visit your neighborhood garden center for advice on nectar producing plants that do well in your zone. Bear in mind that some are perennials in the Southern U.S. but must be replanted each year in colder parts of the continent. Here are some frequently suggested plant/flower species (both native and imported) that grow well in many different zones:

Aster Bee Balm Burning Bush Butterfly Bush Butterfly Weed
Chrysanthemum Clover Columbine Dandelion Goldenrod
Honeysuckle Joe-Pye Weed Marigold Purple Coneflower Shasta Daisy
Shrubby Cinquefoil Verbena Wild Violet Yarrow Zinnia

Some of these plants, such as clover, double as food plants for caterpillars. You can also deliberately grow hosts for specific butterfly larvae. Use milkweed to supply a breeding ground for monarchs. Dill, parsley, and other members of the carrot family will attract female swallowtails that are ready to lay their eggs. Watching caterpillars grow and change is one of the most interesting experiences provided by a home butterfly garden.

Common Butterfly Species 

Expect to see both local and migrating species of butterflies pass through your garden depending on the time of year and your location. The larger and more varied your plant selection is, the greater number and variety of Lepidoptera you will see. However, some plants (like the aptly named butterfly bush) will attract many different types of butterflies at one time. Here are some of the species that frequent North American butterfly gardens:

Alfalfas Buckeyes Cabbage Whites Fritillaries Goatweeds
Hackberries Hairstreaks Monarchs Morning Cloak Nymphs
Painted Ladies Pearl Crescents Question Marks Red Admirals Skippers
Snout Noses Sulphurs Swallowtails Tawny Emperors Viceroys

Special Considerations

This type of garden will attract much more than just butterflies. Hummingbirds are welcome visitors as well. Bees and wasps will also come to drink from your ready supply of nectar. When this happens, move slowly and remain calm. These insects are foraging far away from their home nests and unlikely to sting humans. They help pollinate flowers and are a natural feature of all butterfly gardens.