Everything You Need to Plant a Butterfly Garden

How to Plant a Butterfly Garden in Your Backyard

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Do you like and enjoy seeing butterflies in their natural habitat? Are you filled with joy when you see their delicate wings in the morning sunshine? You can see and experience this at home with your very own butterfly garden. A butterfly garden is a garden that is designed and grown to attract pollinators like bees and butterflies. Designing and building a butterfly garden can be not only a bonding experience for you and your family, but also an activity that helps remind us that we’re part of nature and our actions have an impact. Our butterfly garden guide has all the info you need to get started, including how to choose a location, how to decide which plants to grow, and tips for designing a beautiful and functional space in your own backyard.

What is a Butterfly Garden?

butterfly garden near a white fence

A garden for butterflies is a sanctuary planted specifically for the purpose of providing color to your backyard by planting sections or even planters of vegetation known for attracting butterflies. Depending on the space available, you may be able to plant rows of bright flowers in an already existing garden or you might be able to place some decorative planters in eye-catching locations around your residence (should space be limited).

Generally, a butterfly garden would be ripe with nectar-producing flowers that not only look like a rainbow come to life but will also have a fragrance to match. These gardens are not only visually appealing to all but will also provide a safe haven for butterflies as the season’s progress.

What  You Will Need to Plant a Butterfly Garden

As with any project that you are willing to tackle, it is duly important to note that some materials may need to be purchased when growing a butterfly garden.

  • Potting soil
  • Gardening Tools
  • Planters or lumber to make wooden boxes
  • Nectar-producing plants from the list below

How to Plant a Butterfly Garden

Make sure you do ample research on the types of plants you will need. Many wildflowers and other perennials native to one place might be invasive in another. You’ll also need to know which butterflies are in your region, what plants they prefer, and whether they’d be best served by an untamed meadow or garden, planter boxes, shrub rows, or another type of planting arrangement.

butterfly garden wall with untamed climbing perennials and zinnias

Location, Location, Location

As with any garden, the location is essential to success. There are a few factors to consider when determining the location of your butterfly area:

Exposure to sunlight throughout the day. Butterflies love and thrive in the sunlight, so a butterfly garden positioned to make the most of both the morning and evening sun—along with the time in between—is a must.

Exposure to chemicals or pesticides. Perhaps you supplement your grocery needs each week with home-grown vegetables that are sprayed with an organic pesticide. If so, you do not want to expose butterflies to that, as their genetic makeup leaves them unable to heal from internal damage. If you live on a busy street, it would not be recommended to position your butterfly garden where it receives a lot of exposure to exhaust.

Exposure to the elements. Your chosen garden spot should be protected from harsh winds that can damage the flowers providing nectar and safe havens for the butterflies. Most gardening experts or butterfly enthusiasts would recommend placing the garden near trees or shrubs to provide shelter for the butterflies, or to plant a few flowering shrubs strategically throughout the garden to provide the same.

Soil & Planting

Plants and flowers need a certain type of soil to grow and flourish in your region. The soil chosen should be rich in nutrients and minerals to encourage healthy growth. The soil will need to be weeded regularly, as certain types of garden weeds can choke out the other plants by cutting off their oxygen and water supply.

Plant flowers and other vegetation in the design you have chosen, making sure to leave room for growth, weeding and watering. It is recommended that you plant both plants and flowers in groups of three, so it is easy for passing butterflies to find their food source. Place “host” plants on the outskirts of your garden to encourage butterflies to lay their larvae in a safe location, away from predators of human and organic origins.

Water Source for a Butterfly Oasis

As with any type of garden, a consistent water source is an absolute necessity. If your plants are healthy with ample water to drink, the butterflies can draw water from the plants to use for their own means. Make sure that your garden can be easily watered, either through a garden hose or irrigation system. Don’t overwater plants, as this can drown the roots, which causes the plant to suffer; in turn, creating an unsafe haven for the butterflies as there is no food or water source from the plants.

A damp area of wet sand or soil will provide your butterflies with the water it needs in each stage of life, encouraging butterflies to return each year to your location.

Additional Features

BUTTERFLY HOTEL AND BUTTERFLY FEEDER ADDITIONAL FEATURES IN BUTTERFLY GARDEN

By providing butterflies a consistent food source and shelter from the elements, you will encourage current inhabitants of your garden for butterflies to stay in the haven you have provided, and you will also attract other butterflies of different varieties as well. You can purchase actual butterfly houses for your garden and they are simple structures that have slotted openings for quick and easy movement for your butterflies. Provide additional sources of nectar by installing a butterfly feeder (available at your local garden center or nursery) or provide additional sources of water by installing a birdbath in the garden. As butterflies do not drink open water, an old birdbath filled with a wet sand or silt can provide additional sources of water for your butterfly visitors.

Place a few flat rocks in strategic locations to provide a resting place for butterflies, particularly in the mornings and evenings when the temperature is at a lower level than it would be mid-day.

Suitable Plants for a Butterfly Garden

Just as certain types of vegetables grow more plentiful in certain climates, there are particular flowers and shrubs that will attract butterflies to your butterfly garden. Butterflies are more attracted to any type of flower that is a nectar-producing variety, as this is what they use for fuel for their bodies but it also important to choose some leafy plants that provide a safe location for egg-laying butterflies. Choose plants and flowers that flourish in each growing season, and if possible, choose flowers that come back year after year for additional nectar. Most gardening sources will recommend a healthy mix of both perennial and annual flowers to not only brighten your garden but will provide a steady source of comfort and fuel for the butterflies.

In order to start your butterfly garden right, you need to consider the possible butterfly-friendly flowers that attract them and create a lovely visual – and aromatic – garden. You also need to decide which plants will grow best in your particular climate. Here are some options with the information that will help you determine if these blooming plants are right for you.

BUTTERFLY GARDEN FLOWERS 1

BUTTERFLY BUSH

This is a shrub that offers ease of care, and while it can grow quite large, you can easily trim it back to near ground level in winter and early spring to control growth without harming the plant.

  • Scientific name – Buddleia
  • Colors – shades of blue, purple, and white
  • Size – up to 10 feet tall and 15 feet wide
  • Growing Conditions – full sun, moist but well-drained soil
  • Zones – 5 – 9 (depends on strain)
  • Complementary flowers – The brilliant orange of the Mexican sunflower provides a stark contrast that is eye-catching and looks great with any and all strains of the butterfly bush.

PHLOX

This plant grows in bushes or clusters with brilliant shades that bloom all summer long. Note that phlox is quite susceptible to a disease known as powdery mildew, so you’ll want to get a variety that has been bred as resistant to this ailment.

  • Scientific name – Phlox paniculata
  • Colors – red, pink, salmon, lavender, and white
  • Size – up to 4 feet tall and 1 foot wide
  • Growing Conditions – full sun, moist but well-drained soil
  • Zones – 4 – 8
  • Complementary flowers – Because it works in the same zones and environment as well as compliments the beauty of phlox, consider planting it with purple coneflower.

ANISE HYSSOP

Another easy-care plant that can work wonders in your butterfly garden is anise hyssop, with its brilliant color and its resistance to extreme heat and drought. It also repels deer and rabbits, while attracting butterflies and making a great cut flower during the weeks of late summer.

  • Scientific name – Agastache foeniculum
  • Colors – blue
  • Size – up to 5 feet tall and 2 feet wide
  • Growing Conditions – full sun, moist but well-drained soil
  • Zones – 4 – 10
  • Complementary flowers – Consider adding some black-eyed Susan. The overall effect of blue and yellow can offer a peaceful but energetic feel.

 

BUTTERFLY GARDEN FLOWERS 2

BUTTERFLY WEED

A favorite among Monarchs, butterfly weed provides nectar to the adults over the summer and food for caterpillars in the leaves. If you add other milkweeds to your garden with the weed, such as the bloodflower, you’ll get even better results.

  • Scientific name – Asclepias tuberosa
  • Colors – orange
  • Size – up to 3 feet tall and 1 foot wide
  • Growing Conditions – full sun, moist but well-drained soil
  • Zones – 4 – 9
  • Complementary flowers – While it has more to do with the attraction to the nectar by the butterflies than appearance, Liatris compliments butterfly weed beautifully.

BUTTERFLY GARDEN FLOWERS 3

ASTER

Considered one of the best options for fall, aster is quite colorful, making it aesthetically pleasing, as well as functional. It provides dual support, supplying nectar in the fall for butterflies and the Pearl Crescent caterpillars will feast on the leaves.

  • Scientific name – Aster (various varieties)
  • Colors – shades of blue, purple, pink, red, and white
  • Size – up to 5 feet tall and 2 feet wide
  • Growing Conditions – full sun, moist but well-drained soil
  • Zones – 3 – 8 (depends on strain)
  • Complementary flowers – Bloody geranium will keep bloom during the summer and provide intense red foliage in the fall to make a beautiful backdrop for aster blooms.

PURPLE CONEFLOWER

The purple coneflower blooms through most of the summer, providing a nectar that many species of butterfly enjoy and making it ideal for your garden. It’s also good in high heat and drought conditions and cuts well for presentation.

  • Scientific name – Echinacea (varieties)
  • Colors – purple
  • Size – up to 5 feet tall and 2 feet wide
  • Growing Conditions – full sun, moist but well-drained soil
  • Zones – 3 – 9 (depends on strain)
  • Complementary flowers – Paired with anise hyssop, you can create fantastic blooms all summer long that work well together in a bouquet, while also assuring that the butterflies keep coming back for more.

SALVIA

One of the best things about salvia is the rainbow of colors in which they come. This means you have a number of options – or you can plant them all. The butterflies will flock to any strain since this is a particular favorite for the sweet nectar.

  • Scientific name – Salvia “May Night”
  • Colors – blue, purple, red, orange, pink
  • Size – up to 3 feet tall and 1 foot wide
  • Growing Conditions – full sun, moist but well-drained soil
  • Zones – 4 – 9
  • Complementary flowers – To add a complimentary long blooming flower, consider planting with coreopsis, which offers a bright yellow to intermingle.

BUTTERFLY GARDEN FLOWERS 4

LANTANA

Lantana is an extremely versatile plant, so if you don’t have good soil and garden space, it can also thrive in containers. Butterflies love them, and they come in such a vast array of colors that you can literally get a great deal of diversity from this single plant that blooms all summer long.

  • Scientific name – Lantana (varieties)
  • Colors – shades of lavender, pink, red, orange, yellow, cream, and white
  • Size – up to 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide
  • Growing Conditions – full sun, moist but well-drained soil
  • Zones – 10, though they can be annuals in cooler regions
  • Complementary flowers – When paired with zinnia, lantana looks amazing and can be especially attractive to a wide variety of butterfly species.

PENTAS

Bright, star-shaped blooms and a thriving nature in any garden make pentas especially easy to grow. They thrive in hot weather and are sturdy in drought. They also attract hummingbirds, if you’re interested in more than just butterflies.

  • Scientific name – Pentas (varieties)
  • Colors – pink, red, and white
  • Size – up to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide
  • Growing Conditions – full sun, moist but well-drained soil
  • Zones – 10 – 11 (usually grown as an annual)
  • Complementary flowers – Angelonia complements pentas well, and the two make an easy grow pair that lasts all summer long.

BUTTERFLY GARDEN FLOWERS 5 VERBENA

PASSIONFLOWER

If you have a taste for the exotic but not a particularly green thumb, try passionflower. They are sturdy plants that grow well on the vine and provide a favored nectar for butterflies. It’s also a host plant for several species of caterpillar.

  • Scientific name – Passiflora incarnata
  • Colors – blue, white
  • Size – up to 10 feet (climbing vine)
  • Growing Conditions – full sun, moist but well-drained soil
  • Zones – 6 – 9
  • Complementary flowers – Because it’s a quick growing vine, combining passionflower with the similarly quick growing vines of black-eyed Susan creates a beautiful alternating blue and yellow pattern.

BUTTERFLY GARDEN FLOWERS 6

MEXICAN SUNFLOWER

For an easy to grow flower that offers size and boldness of color all summer long, try the Mexican sunflower, a particular favorite for butterflies and an addition to your butterfly garden that will literally stand out and grab attention.

  • Scientific name – Tithonia rotundifolia
  • Colors – orange
  • Size – up to 6 feet tall and 1 foot wide
  • Growing Conditions – full sun, moist but well-drained soil
  • Zones – annuals anywhere
  • Complementary flowers – Because they prefer the same growing conditions and make a radiant array of color, Mexican sunflowers might look best if blended with South American verbena.

SOUTH AMERICAN VERBENA

Aside from being very attractive to butterflies, South American verbena is also attractive for people – it creates a perfect cut. And interestingly enough, you’ll find that the more you cut, the more blooms grow in place of your cuttings through the summer.

  • Scientific name – Verbena bonariensis
  • Colors – lavender purple
  • Size – up to 6 feet tall and 2 feet wide
  • Growing Conditions – full sun, moist but well-drained soil
  • Zones – 7 – 10 (usually grown as an annual)
  • Complementary flowers – South American verbena is practically heat and drought resistant, and so is yarrow, and when grown together, the flat clusters of rainbow blooms of yarrow really make the lavender verbena stand out.

ZINNIA

Why is zinnia popular for every type of garden? They are easy to grow,

which means that cottage gardeners and even people with a planter on the front porch enjoy them. Plus, they are available in an endless rainbow of colors. Best of all, they attract butterflies all summer long.

  • Scientific name – Zinnia (varieties)
  • Colors – A rainbow of shades
  • Size – up to 3 feet tall and 1 foot wide
  • Growing Conditions – full sun, moist but well-drained soil
  • Zones – grown anywhere as annuals
  • Complementary flowers – With the boldness of zinnia, you should consider a ferry background such as fennel, which really gives the thick foliage appearance accenting these brilliant blooms.

JOE PYE WEED

For something a little later in the season that lasts into fall, try the tall Joe Pye weed, which also comes in shorter varieties if necessary. These flowers bloom in large clusters and are highly liked by butterflies. They also add a different texture to your butterfly garden.

  • Scientific name – Eupatorium (varieties)
  • Colors – dusty pink
  • Size – up to 7 feet tall and 3 feet wide
  • Growing Conditions – full sun, moist but well-drained soil
  • Zones – 3 – 9
  • Complementary flowers – To add something that butterflies can’t resist, consider planting Joe Pye weed with South American verbena. Not only is this aesthetically pleasing; it also adds up to an easy-care combination.

BUTTERFLY GARDEN FLOWERS 7

BLACK-EYED SUSAN

This particular strain of flower blooms well through the late summer and can actually get quite large. The perennial is tough and long-lasting in many climates and makes a great ground spread that butterflies adore.

  • Scientific name – Rudbeckia (varieties)
  • Colors – yellow and black like daisies
  • Size – up to 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide
  • Growing Conditions – full sun, moist but well-drained soil
  • Zones – 4 – 9
  • Complementary flowers – For a beautiful, velvety carpet, grow black-eyed Susans in tandem with purple coneflower, giving yourself a sense of field and prairie in your own yard.

FENNEL

Bronze fennel provides a certain ferry texture to your butterfly garden, and it’s a great way to attract swallowtail butterflies since their caterpillars love to feed on the leaves of these plants. While you should leave a few flowers to assure seeds keep the fennel growing, you should cut most flowers off as they fade to avoid fennel’s tendency to grow too aggressively.

  • Scientific name –Foeniculum vulgare
  • Colors – bronze and purple leaves with yellow flowers
  • Size – up to 6 feet tall and 2 feet wide
  • Growing Conditions – full sun, moist but well-drained soil
  • Zones – 4 – 9
  • Complementary flowers – Queen Anne’s lace has a similar texture to fennel but grows white flowers and green foliage that look elegant mixed with bronze fennel and attracts the same swallowtail caterpillars.\

COREOPSIS

Coreopsis holds a surprise that goes beyond its thick blooms – it’s a strong perennial that bounces back to last the whole summer if you take proper care. When clusters of blooms begin to fade, cut them back, and the resilience comes through with another round of blooms, right up until fall.

  • Scientific name –Coreopsis “Moonbeam”
  • Colors – yellow
  • Size – up to 18 inches tall and wide
  • Growing Conditions – full sun, moist but well-drained soil
  • Zones – 3 – 8
  • Complementary flowers – To extend the apparent life of coreopsis which starts to fade in late summer, add in some sedum, which will pick up at the end of the run of coreopsis to keep blooming strong through the fall.

BUTTERFLY GARDEN FLOWERS 8 COREOPSIS

This is just a small selection of the plants and flowers that would be beneficial to your butterfly garden, but most of the plants at your local garden center or nursery should be labeled with “butterfly friendly” or something to that effect. If you are unsure what plants would grow the best in your climate, speak to an expert on plants native to your region.

Winter Garden Maintenance

When the weather turns cold and the butterflies are gone, bring in any houses, feeders, or other features for storage in a closet or shed or garage.

Most pollinator attracting flowers on this list are perennials, meaning the plants grow back year after year. To provide the best growing conditions for your garden in spring, it’s important to let the flowers go to seed (or “bolt”) in the fall, then mow or trim back the dead stalks and stems. If you’d like, you can cover the beds with straw or mulch, but this isn’t necessary unless you live in an area that drops below -30F on a regular basis in the winter.

In spring, remove the straw if you used it, inspect the space for any harmful critters, and give the soil a good dose of fish emulsion or another organic fertilizer to get things going.

Each year, with proper care, your garden will grow back a little fuller and a little differently, and butterflies will visit in greater numbers.

Conclusion

Now that you know what the wonders of a garden for butterflies would be, and how easy it would be to plant your own butterfly garden; why not take a trip to your local nursery this weekend and purchase some attractive plants to the delicately-winged creatures of the summer? Bonus reward by visiting your local nursery over a commercial retailer: you will be supporting your local gardeners and farmers plus they would be filled with the knowledge of what plants grow sturdy in your climate and what ones could fail due to the changing seasons. They may even know of plants that are attractive and will draw the butterflies of the area to your garden!

If you enjoyed this tutorial and would like to let us know what your plans are for your own butterfly garden, please feel free to comment down below! Or, if you currently have a butterfly garden and would love to offer some tips and ideas for others to improve it, let us know down below! Would love to hear from you!

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