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Closeup shot by Diane Rixon of an orange butterfly with its wings spread
One of my greatest summer joys is watching butterflies delicately fluttering and swooping in the sun. Last spring, I finally got around to starting my very own butterfly garden. It's still very much a work in progress; however, I'd love to share it with you. Click over to my gallery to take a tour of my butterfly garden.

Want to give butterfly gardening a try yourself? Here are 20 tips to get started!


1. Learn some butterfly garden basics. The most important thing to know is that butterflies are attracted to brightly colored flowers, and to certain plants in particular. Some of the best plants for attracting butterflies are butterfly bush, lantana, pentas, milkweed, purple coneflower, willow, and fennel.

2. Know your local butterflies. Find out which butterflies are commonly found in your state. For example, the butterfly in my picture is a Gulf Fritillary which is found all over Florida. Is there a specific butterfly you want to attract? Perhaps the gorgeous Monarch? Then learn up to find out which plants are most likely to attract that species. Tip: for Monarchs, try planting milkweed.

Tour my butterfly garden(click thumbnails to view gallery)

It doesn't take muchWater is importantButterfly bush in SpringButterfly bush in early SummerButterfly bush bloom

3. Butterflies vs. Moths. What's the difference between a butterfly and a moth, anyway? Impress your friends with your general knowledge. Moths often resemble butterflies, but look closer: they usually have fatter, furrier bodies and flattened antennae. Moths also rest with their wings open, not folded up on their backs, as butterflies do. Finally, moths are usually nocturnal.

4. Use the Web. The Internet has tons of jumping off points for those who want to learn more about attracting butterflies to their yards. The Butterfly Site is a great place to start.

5. Poach ideas. Find out if there are any butterfly gardens open to the public in your area and check them out. Places to investigate include public parks, independently-owned garden centers, and your county extension office. Here in Tallahassee, Florida, our local museum even has a beautiful butterfly garden.


6. Sun is important. Butterflies are attracted to plants with nectar-producing flowers, and those are plants that typically must be planted in full sun. Pick the sunniest spot possible for your butterfly garden.

7. Water is important, too. Butterflies need water, but they drink by sucking water from puddles or droplets of moisture off plants. They cannot drink from deeper bodies of water like backyard ponds or bird baths. For that reason, it's important to provide a very shallow water source just for your winged buddies.

The simplest option: fill a saucer with water and place a stone in the center. Or half-fill the saucer with pebbles, sand, or mud, then add just enough water to cover. Whatever you do, remember to refresh the water often (every day or two) or it will a) completely evaporate or b) become a breeding zone for mosquitoes. It's a pain in the neck, but worth the effort.

8. Larval plants are really, really important! Butterflies are attracted to certain flowering plants as food sources. They need the nectar that those plants' blooms provide. However, butterflies also need a place to lay their eggs and the females will deposit their eggs only on specific plants -- the plants that their offspring, the caterpillars, will devour when they're born. Dill, parsley, fennel and clover are all larval plants. Every butterfly garden needs at least one or two larval plants.

Extra tip: place larval plants in the middle of your flower bed, where they won't be missed after the caterpillars have feasted on them and chewed them to shreds!

9. Location, location. Try to place your garden in a spot where you can enjoy it on a daily basis. More than any other type of garden I can think of, butterfly gardens demand a high-traffic location. Watching butterflies complete their life cycle is such a joy, but you need to check in often to keep tabs on what's happening. That's why a convenient location is important.

10. Shop local. The big box stores have the lowest prices, that's true. But local garden centers always have the most knowledgeable staff. They can point you to the most reliable butterfly plants for your area, and that will save you money in the long run.


11. Space isn't necessary. Butterfly gardens can be enormous, as in the case of butterfly meadows and prairies. However, you don't need a lot of space -- or even a yard -- to attract butterflies. Apartment-dweller? Try placing pots of pentas or zinnia on your front steps or in a window box.

12. You don't need a dedicated "butterfly garden" area either. Adding any plant to your garden is good for the environment. If it is a plant that encourages butterflies, great; you don't have to have a special space devoted only to that. Just pop a butterfly bush in the middle of your perennial bed or amongst your shrubs this summer.

13. Layering is not essential, but it helps. When planning your butterfly garden, try to create a combination of plants that provide visual interest year-round. Many butterfly-attracting plants are annuals or perennials, and a garden consisting entirely of these is going to look awfully dull in January. Consider adding some evergreens to the mix. Possible choices include creeping groundcovers, hollies, low-growing shrubs, irises, daylillies, and ornamental grasses.

14. Shelter from the wind is a good thing. You can provide shelter for your garden by adding a wall or trellis, trees, shrubs, or even a brush pile. Not only do these structures protect butterflies and their eggs, they also provide safe places for the caterpillars to pupate. Bottom line: unless you live in an extremely wind-swept area, extra shelter is nice but not essential.

15. Basking spots are appreciated. Provide some dark-colored rocks as butterflies love to hang out in the sun. Again, this is a nice extra, but it's not essential.


16. Fertilizers and pesticides? You won't need them. An occasional sprinkling of fertilizer is okay. Pesticides and/or insecticides, on the other hand, must be avoided. They kill everything that flies and wiggles... including all the desirable critters in your yard, butterflies and caterpillars included.

17. Pruning in winter. Some butterfly-attracting plants need maintenance in the form of a winter trim. In particular, be aware that butterfly bush only produces flowers on the new year's growth. Therefore, it's a good idea to prune it back to knee-height in late winter to ensure it blooms all over in spring and summer. (Dead-heading butterfly bush throughout the growing season helps, too.)

18. Get the hose. Be prepared to water your butterfly garden regularly during the hottest months of the year. This is especially true during the first summer or two when the plants are still getting established. Ensure your garden is within reach of a water source, and minimize water wastage by mulching.


19. Interested in more advanced butterfly-related projects? Try raising your own butterflies or collecting caterpillars. Better yet, support the North American Butterfly Association or a similar organization.

20. Encourage your kids. Let them start their own butterfly garden or help them make some fun butterfly-themed crafts this summer vacation.

Now get outside and enjoy your garden!


  • randi

    This website has links to the host plants and nectar plants for butterfly gardens listed by state. Every state has different butterflies so it's fun to look up your state and see what plants you should be using in your butterfly garden.

  • Diane Rixon

    Oh, that is a fantastic site! I love it, too. Thanks!

  • 2 Comments / 1 Pages

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