Attracting one of nature's most beautiful creatures, the butterfly, to your garden is easy with a little know-how. Whether adapting an existing garden or starting one from scratch, the key is to provide the four things butterflies want:
Nectar flower for the butterflies
Host plants where butterflies want to lay eggs
Shelter from wind
A butterfly puddle
Butterfly Nectar Flowers
Flowers are food for butterflies, and providing an abundance of nectar flowers will ensure that your butterfly garden is the most popular spot in town. Butterflies can get sustenance from most flowers, but each has its preferred types, which are usually plants native to the region.
Another thing to keep in mind when planning your nectar flowers is that most perennials bloom only for a portion of the year, some for only a few weeks. Plan your garden to allow for a diverse group of perennials that bloom at different times so that there are always plentiful blossoms. Planting annuals, plants that bloom all season long, alongside perennials will ensure your garden is never without flowers. (This means that you'll also get to enjoy the beautiful blossoms all summer long, too!)
Host plants are the plant on which butterflies lay their eggs and caterpillars feed on. Butterflies tend to be attracted to gardens that include their host plants even if they're using a different flower as a food source. Often host plants also provide nectar flowers for butterflies - but not always - and they don't always bloom at the right time of year.
Our guide to Butterfly Gardening by Region also provides a complete list of host plants for the butterflies native to each region of the United States.
One thing to keep in mind about host plants: their purpose is to provide caterpillars with food. Don't be dismayed when you see that something is eating holes in the host plants - it's a sign that your garden is a success! If you want to keep the half-eaten leaves hidden, consider planting flowering annuals or other plants around the host plants to disguise them. You can also plant the host plants toward the back of your garden.
Tip! Don't use insecticides in your butterfly garden. They will kill the butterflies and their caterpillars, as well as the pests you're trying to get rid of.
The large, beautiful wings of butterflies make them lovely to look at, but also make them susceptible to winds. High and moderate winds are difficult for butterflies to fly in, so an ideal butterfly garden will provide shelter from wind.
Consider planting bushes to help shelter your butterfly garden. A trellis covered with flowering vines or grapes will create a wind wall. Both of these shelter options will make your garden even more attractive to butterflies.
Tip! Set up a seating area next to your garden. You'll enjoy being sheltered from the wind too as you're dining and relaxing with the butterflies.
Butterflies engage in something called mud-puddling, in which they extract water, sodium, and other nutrients from moist sand or soil. While you can attract plenty of butterflies without it, consider adding a puddling area to your butterfly garden.
Here are a few ways to create a butterfly puddle:
Bury a clay pot at ground level. Fill it with sand and water.
Fill a birdbath with sand and water.
Lay sand along paths and beneath water fountains. Try a simple solar outdoor fountain that runs without cords. By placing stones beneath the falling water, you can create enough of a splash to keep a bed of sand beneath the fountain wet.
The key to a good butterfly puddle is keeping the sand moist. You can increase its attractiveness by dissolving a teaspoon of salt in the water you use to wet the sand and by adding a small amount of compost to the puddle. Add rocks, twigs, or shells on the top of the sand to create perches for drinking butterflies.
Tip! Look for butterflies gathering in the sand in evening, often many of them grouping together to drink.
Now you've got the right ingredients to create a butterfly that will attract these winged beauties! Once your garden is planted, you can sit back, relax, and watch butterflies flit from flower to flower in your garden.