How to Start a Butterfly Garden

Evelyn Long

Feb 13, 2023


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A butterfly garden is an aesthetically-pleasing addition to any yard, creating a sanctuary for these stunning pollinators to feed and thrive.

However, if you hope to attract a variety of butterfly species, there’s a correct way to construct the perfect habitat for each stage of their life. This guide will teach you how to start a butterfly garden that your favorite critters will love.

Why Butterflies Matter

Butterflies are reminiscent of sunnier days and vibrant spring blooms, having flittered across the earth for 65 to 135 million years during the Cretaceous Period — also known as the “Age of Flowering Plants.”

Unfortunately, butterfly species are in decline due to ecological stress, reduced food availability, predators and habitat loss. Scientists suggest that we lose butterflies at a rate of 1.6% annually, including the western monarch. 

Butterflies are a critical component of a healthy ecosystem, serving as pollinators and natural pest control. Aside from their biological, intrinsic and aesthetic benefits, butterflies are pollinators and essential to the agricultural industry. 

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 75% of the world’s crops rely on pollinators to produce quality yields for human consumption. A decline in crop production will ultimately lead to greater food insecurity as the global population increases. Therefore, creating ecological safe havens for butterflies to flourish is necessary. 

6 Steps for Creating a Butterfly Garden

Creating a butterfly garden is easy enough. Simply following these six steps will attract hundreds of butterflies to your yard. 

1. Prep Your Garden

The conditions must be suitable for a butterfly garden, meaning its location needs to receive ample sunlight for the flowers to grow. 

Butterflies are most active when temperatures exceed 60° Fahrenheit, as many butterfly species are native to tropical, humid regions. 

Start prepping your butterfly garden in early spring after the harsh winter. Layer the garden beds with compost and organic fertilizer to restore the soil naturally. This will ensure that the ground contains adequate minerals and fertility to support plant growth. 

2. Choose Plants that Attract Butterflies

Butterflies prefer clustered flowers with flatter surfaces to rest their thin legs while probing for nectar. Additionally, they like bright-colored wildflowers that open throughout the day. 

Different plants also tend to lure various butterfly species. Consider selecting the following plants to grow in your butterfly garden:

  • Allium
  • Buttonbush
  • Cornflower
  • Daylily
  • Dill
  • Goldenrod
  • Lavender
  • Lilac
  • Pansy
  • Snapdragon
  • Zinnia

Monarchs have a wingspan of three to four inches and are one of the most recognizable butterfly species. However, if you hope to see them in your garden, you’ll need to grow milkweed, the only plant they feed on — hence their nickname, the “milkweed butterfly.”

3. Make Homemade Bait

Flowers aren’t enough to attract butterflies to your butterfly garden. You’ll also require homemade bait with sugary, yeast-based ingredients to deliver essential nutrients and food. 

Butterflies enjoy rotting fruits like bananas, apples and peaches, pure cane sugar and molasses. 

Simply add the bait to a plate and situate it where the butterflies can access it. You can also leave it for them on a flat rock or tree stump. 

4. Add a Water Source

Like all living things, butterflies need to hydrate, which is why you’ll want to incorporate a water source for them to drink. However, they can’t land on water, meaning a birdbath or pond won’t work — you’ll need to create a puddling station instead.

Puddling stations contain pebbles, sand, dirt and water, in which butterflies can sip and ingest essential nutrients and salt minerals. Males butterflies require minerals to secrete pheromones to attract mates, while females benefit from healthier reproduction. 

Set your puddling station near your homemade bait. You’ll notice butterflies tend to puddle most during the hottest months between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., regardless of where you live.  

5. Build a Butterfly House

While planting trees and bushes are ideal for shade and a place to rest, butterfly houses are excellent for protection against rain, wind and predators. They’re also a safe space for hibernation and cocooning. 

Butterfly houses don’t have to be large or very fancy. In fact, you can make a butterfly house out of a small wooden box with a little opening.

Of course, you might decide to decorate your butterfly house by painting it with bright colors to go with your garden. The butterflies might not tell the difference, but you certainly can enjoy the artistic touch.

6. Avoid Pesticides

Although pests are everyone’s least favorite garden inhabitants, you’ll want to avoid using pesticides in your butterfly garden.

Even from the larval stage, chemical pesticides could hinder butterfly health. Studies show that adult monarchs had a 12.5% decrease in wingspan after pesticide exposure and lower larvae survival rates.

Companion planting and non-toxic pest control methods with everyday household ingredients are much safer for getting rid of garden pests without harming the butterflies.

Enjoy Summer Days Watching the Butterflies

Once your butterfly garden is complete, you can sit back and enjoy all the action. A properly-constructed butterfly garden is bound to attract hundreds of butterflies in all colors, patterns and sizes.

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