Planting a Butterfly Garden

If you love butterflies, there is a simple way to attract more of them into your yard.  Plant flowers!  Butterflies sip on the rich nectar produced by the flowers.  Certain butterflies favor a specific flower, but the more flowers that are in your yard will draw more butterflies.

The factors that attract butterflies also include having a selection of plants on which they can lay their eggs, called host plants. These plants have large leaves or sturdy branches where eggs can develop until hatching.  Butterflies will not get nectar from host plants, and the caterpillars prefer to eat green leafy material, so a host plant is just that, a host.

When the eggs hatch into caterpillars, they are hungry!  The caterpillars will eat different plants and leaves than what attracts the butterfly.  Nectar bearing, host and larvae plants are required to keep everyone happy in your yard.  Keeping a balance of flowers, host plants and larvae favorite plants sounds tricky, but it’s not really.

A butterfly garden does not need to be large. Depending on which stage, or all stages, of a butterfly’s life you want to see determines what to plant.  A flowerbox added under a window will draw adult butterflies.  A milkweed plant in the backyard can draw Monarch butterflies to lay their eggs.  Birch and Elm trees are feed many different caterpillars before the form their cocoons.

To keep butterflies in your yard as long as possible, plant strategically. Plant flowers that bloom in different times of the year, such as early spring bulbs, summer annuals and perennials and fall bloomers.  Certain flowers and plants bloom continuously during a season and attract regulars.  When choosing flowers to plant, use some from every color group to create a more tempting garden for butterflies to dine in.

Manmade nectar also attracts butterflies.  A shallow dish or specialty feeder can hold sweet drinks such as juice or beer, or even water to attract butterflies.  Make sure it is shallow, with a rim and a center rock for landing.  The bugs and bees will also be attracted to this, so it may require cleaning and careful placement in the yard.

Butterfly gardens work best in wide open sunlight.  The butterflies use the energy from the sun’s rays to warm their wings.  Warm wings are also dry wings, which help the butterfly to fly faster and keep away from predators.  Butterflies will spend time in the shade, however, they are drawn to the warm sunny areas first.

Following are flowers that will draw a variety of butterflies such as Admiral, Monarch, Swallowtail, Painted Lady, and on and on.  Depending on your region, you may have more species to dine on your flowers than others.  The seasons will attract more or less butterflies too.  Michigan in February is void of all fluttering critters!

If you have a favorite butterfly you want to draw into your yard, plant all of its host plant preferences, larvae food plants and nectar offering foods. Specific lists can be found online, in books or at the library.

Flowers are listed for all of North America and need to be adapted according to your climate and growing region.  Flowers for attracting North American Butterflies:




Moss Rose




Bachelor Buttons






Black-eyed Susan




Lilac bushes

Butterfly bushes









Host Plants:

Bayberry Bush


Cedar Tree






Larvae Food

Ash Tree

Birch Tree

Tulip Tree

Willow Tree Poplar Tree

Elm Tree

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