The Butterfly Friendly Garden-
Two Steps to Attract Butterflies
Attracting butterflies to our garden is one of the most delightful goals in any landscape
One of the first signs of summer is the return of of the butterflies.
Attracting them to your garden and keeping them there is pretty easy if you know how.
Follow our two butterfly attracting steps and you will enjoy your fluttery friends this summer, and for years to come!
To find information on the specific plants that butterflies love, see our article, Plants that Attract Butterflies.
Step One - A healthy garden attracts butterflies.
It’s worth a checkup to see if yours is providing for the needs of the butterfly. These factors determine if you have what it takes for a butterfly friendly garden. Does yours pass the test?
- Food – Do you have the food sources that butterflies prefer? Most butterflies feed on nectar, and native plants are the best ones to provide this source of food. Some butterflies don’t eat nectar, though. Sap, carrion, rotting fruit—in other words decaying things, are the favorite food of the Hackberry Emperor Butterfly. A harvester butterfly eats honeydew from aphids.
- Water – Butterflies need water.. They prefer sandy wet or muddy spots for socializing and “pudding,” a mix of drinking water and extracting dissolved minerals from the mud. You can set a dish in the ground with soil and sand mixtures and keep it continually moist to provide this important butterfly feature.
- Safe Shelter - Do you have undisturbed areas that butterflies can hide if necessary? Snags, Brush, Fallen Leaves, Trees, Woody Shrubs, and Brush Piles are some of the places where butterflies seek shelter
- Places to Lay Eggs – For example: Brush, dried flower stalks, snags and shrubs are some places where butterflies like to propagate. Leave some dead foliage and leaf litter in your garden. Only rake the leaves in your garden beds when you have to, such as when there is an especially large accumulation that will blow about. Many larvae and pupae often overwinter in leaf litter, so having leaves in the bed is of great benefit.
- Resting Places – Flat stones in the garden or landscape will give butterflies a place to warm up their wings after feeding. They also get their bearings when they can rest for a few minutes before taking off.
- Sustainable landscape and garden – Do you avoid chemicals in your landscape? Do you use compost and mulch? Do you leave a little dry plant material in the garden? Butterflies are more likely to stay if you do.
Step Two -
If you plan it, they will come.
If you plan on providing a permanent home for butterflies then the type of plants you choose is very important.
A variety of plants and habitat features are important when attracting, and keeping butterflies.
Start out with a survey of your property and decide where and how the following needs will be best met.
- The nectar that butterflies need and the right host food for the caterpillars comes from local flowers. Planting a diverse mix of colorful native flowers will give a butterfly and caterpillar its food of choice because nectar flowers and the host plants for caterpillars are often of different species.
- Sunny areas usually attract adult butterflies seeking nectar, but many of the larval food sources are shade lovers. Plant layers perennials and shrubs of varying heights to imitate natural habitats.
- Often shrubs and trees are food sources, host plants for larvae and provide overwintering spots.
- Allowing a few weeds, like dandelions and violets in certain areas of your lawn will provide additional nectar and larval plants. You don’t have to let them take over, but many butterflies look for these as signs of great habitat.
- Provide continuous blooming plants for your butterflies. When one species has gone to seed, have another coming into bloom
The North American Butterfly Association and Butterflies and Moths of North America has an interactive maps with extensive information on butterflies.
Return To Top
Smithsonian Institution - How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden
North American Butterfly Association
North Carolina Botanical Garden - Recommended Sources for Native Plants
Butterflies and Moths of North America - Occurrence maps, species accounts, checklists, and photographs
Butterflies and Moths of North America
Fairfax County Parks Authority – Using Native Plants to Attract Butterflies and Clearwing Moths in the Washington DC Area and Virginia.
Native Plant Information Network
USDA PLANTS Database
Habitats and Habits of Butterflies
Plants and Hummingbirds
Plants that Attract Native Pollenating Bees
Attract Ladybugs to Your Garden
Organic Gardening - A Beginner's Guide