Butterfly Gardening – A Beginner’s Guide

Have you considered butterfly gardening? Every summer I look forward to seeing butterflies visiting flowers at my home. This has always been a joy of mine since childhood. It was mostly Monarch and smaller yellow or white butterflies we called cabbage butterflies. It wasn’t until I was adult, that I began to get curious about how your garden can attract different butterfly species. Thus, grew my interest into the world of how to start butterfly gardening.

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What is butterfly gardening?

Simply put butterfly gardening is the art of growing flowers and plants that will attract these colorful and dainty creatures to your garden. Delight having beautiful butterflies visiting your flower beds. But, be also create a safe habitat for butterflies to live.  This means creating an habitat life atmosphere in your yard that will invite butterflies to come live, eat, and leave eggs for the next generation of butterflies.

Designing Your Butterfly Garden

The design your butterfly garden is a matter of personal preference. Typical points to consider are the size of your garden and the types of flowers and plants you want to grow. Pick a style of garden that appeals to you, but ensure it also contains the plants and flowers that appeal to the butterflies you wish to attract. You can, also, include flowers and plants that other wildlife will like. Humming birds and honey bees, especially, are attracted to some of the same flowers as butterflies are.

Key Butterfly Garden Elements

To create the kind of environment that they find attractive, you will also need water of some kind. A birdbath or watering station will look attractive and keep the butterflies up off the ground, away from cats or dogs. A shallow dish on a post or hung in a tree will do just as well.

Speaking of pets, be sure to have safe areas for your little winged friends to be free of being chasing down. Although, our cat has never caught a butterfly, she used to be very fond of eating moths. As yucky as that sounds, cats and dogs are curious and will want to chase down any winged creations from your garden. Therefore, depending on how much your pets try bothering visiting wild life, you may need to create some areas out of bounds to your dog or cat.

For example, if you have a fenced back yard, plant your butterfly garden outside of the fence, like a sunny side yard or show off your beautiful blooms in the front of your home. Where ever you get a fair amount of sunlight since many butterfly attracting plants prefer full sun. You can also place butterfly houses in your garden. These are safe little wood houses for the butterfly to enter to rest during the night and protect them from wind and storms.

Choosing the Right Plants

Speaking of plants, it is important you learn which plants and flowers will attract the species of butterflies that live in your area. Websites like Butterfly Conservation Organization(UK) can help you learn about your area’s butterflies. Of the 17500 types of butterflies worldwide, about 750 are found in the United States. Knowing what types living in your area of the country will make planning the right plants for butterfly gardening much more successful.

When planting your butterfly garden, be careful how you coordinate the colors you choose for your flowerbeds. Although, butterflies do not care about your choice of color, you don’t want your garden to be a hodgepodge of unrelated colors and textures. Butterflies are attracted to those flowers that have nectar rather than pollen.

Here are some popular varieties:

  • Angelica – Queen Anne’s Lace (nectar and host)
  • Aster (nectar and host)
  • Baptisia (host)
  • Beebalm (nectar)
  • Black-eyed Susan (nectar)
  • Butterfly Bush (nectar)
  • Butterfly Flower or Butterfly Weed (nectar and host)
  • Coneflower (nectar)
  • Daisy (nectar and host)
  • Goldenrod (nectar)
  • Grasses (host)
  • Joy-Pye Weed – Eupatoriums (Nectar)
  • Ironweed (nectar)
  • Lantana (nectar)
  • Liatris (nectar)
  • Mint family – includes Agastache, Lavender, Rosemary, Calamintha, Pycnanthemum (Nectar)
  • Phlox (nectar)
  • Pipe Vine (host)
  • Salvia (nectar)
  • Sedium (nectar and host)
  • Snapdragon (nectar and host)
  • Stokesia (nectar)
  • Sunflower (nectar and host)
  • Verbena (nectar)
  • Yarrow (nectar)

You can learn more about these from Backyard Boss where I found this very helpful list. In my search for butterfly friendly plants I found that many are perennial. That means they will grow and bloom each year.

The Xerces Society has put together helpful guide sheets. Each guide is for a different region of the country. They list native plants that are pollinator friendly for butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

Choosing Colors

Some people find it helpful to draw and color a layout of their butterfly gardening plan to see what the finished product would look like. Keep in mind that warm colors like red and orange are flashy and showy. These colors have a greater impact against a strong green background. Cool colors such as blue and purple are soothing and toned down. And, these would work better with a white contrast to create the look of freshness and brightness. Basically, have a plan in mind, when planting your garden. Then you and the butterflies will both enjoy it more!


Starting a butterfly garden doesn’t have to be complicated or hard to do. Start gradually introduce new plants to your garden beds that are known to attract butterflies in your area. Local greenhouses can be very helpful in suggesting plants that are designed for you area and can give you tips on keeping your plants healthy. As you get more practice gardening, you can branch out with more plants and attract all kinds of species of butterflies, birds, and bees to your garden. It not only feeds your soul enjoying watching them, but also benefits the environment as a whole.

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