11 Solid Tips To Attract Butterflies To Your Garden

Monarch butterfly sipping the nectar of milkweed flowers.

Most people find butterflies are one of the most beautiful creatures you will see in most flowering gardens. Because these creatures are attractive, many don’t perceive them as insects.

Butterflies help pollinate plants as they search for nectar. This ensures that the future generations of your garden is assured. Butterflies are part of our ecosystems, and vital to the health of their natural habitats, particularly in the food chain, both for humans and wildlife.

Whether your gardens are in the city or country, large or small, everyone will agree that a garden landscape is visually attractive when filled with butterflies.

However, what are some of the best considerations you should know to attract butterflies to your garden?

If you wish to attract butterflies to your garden, you must understand what they want and need most.

11 Tips To Making Your Garden Butterfly-Friendly

1) Provide Host Plants For Caterpillars

Hairy head yellow caterpillar with orange furry tail feeds on the entire leaf from a stalk.

Butterflies and flowers exist for each other. And if you look at them closely, there are specific flowers that butterflies naturally love to be around.

To encourage butterflies to grace your garden with their presence, you have to incorporate food sources in the form of host plants for caterpillars and nectar plants for adult butterflies.

Host plants will act as the nurseries in your garden. The female butterfly will flutter around the plant and will gently lay her next brood’s eggs.

Some butterfly species are choosy. They need specific host plants of their preference, while others aren’t as picky and deposit eggs on any host plants that are easy to access.

Monarch caterpillars prefer to eat milkweeds only. The black swallowtail larvae love to eat the leaves of dill, parsley, carrots, and fennel, while the painted lady caterpillars eat thistle leaves.

When considering a butterfly habitat, your garden needs to accommodate a few numbers of host plants for caterpillars as well as nectar plants for adults.

To attract a broader selection of butterflies, you have to provide a surrounding that supports these winged creatures’ entire life cycle.

Female butterflies usually flutter around a garden, looking for a perfect spot to lay their eggs. So it is essential to assure the egg-laying butterflies and their larvae are well-fed too.

Many caterpillars prefer trees and shrubs on their diet, making it essential to include woody plants in your garden.

2) Design Your Garden To Be Dynamic and In Alternating Blooms

A butterfly feeds from the nectar of a pink daisy.

One of the keys to attracting butterflies is nectar. Adult butterflies like monarchs and fall migrants that overwinter require a lot of nectar sources early in the season to fuel their long journey.

In summer, it is easy to feed nectar when most flowering plants are in bloom. Unfortunately, perennials only bloom in a short period in their growing season, making your garden to have numerous butterflies for a few weeks, then nothing for the rest of the year.

It is always best to have three or more types of plants in bloom during the growing season. Try to select a different species of flower shapes, colors, and sizes to suffice the needs of various butterflies.

Adult butterflies are fascinated with brightly colored flowers like red, yellow, orange, pink and purple blossoms that are flat-topped or clustered and have short flower tubes. However, plants with small flowers attract butterflies of all sizes.

Do not select a tubular type of flower for your butterfly friends. They will have a hard time reaching the nectar at the bottom of the flower.

3) Pick A Sunny Spot For Your Garden

A female butterfly flapping over the colorful flowers in the garden.

Butterflies love to spend some of their time basking in the sunshine. Like other insects, these creatures are ectotherms, meaning they can’t regulate their body temperatures, making them rely upon the sun’s energy to function.

When designing your butterfly garden, it is necessary to know the sun’s direction during the day to pick a spot where the sun directly hit your plants, particularly on colder days.

Butterflies cannot fly when the temperature drops below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. So, it is always best to include safe basking spots around your yard.

Placing perches for sunning in flat stone or wooden fence posts where butterflies can land and spread their wings is also helpful.

Also, nectar plants usually require partial to full sun. So keep in mind that the best site for your butterfly garden is the spot that gets lots of sunlight, even from early spring to late fall, and not just in the summer months.

4) Protect Your Butterflies From Gusty Winds

An adult monarch butterfly feeds the nectar of purple blooms.
Image by: Palawan Butterfly Garden

Wind issues should be one of the factors you have to think about when planning for your butterfly habitat. A backyard that is subject to constant strong winds isn’t beneficial to butterflies. It will be hard for them to gather nectar if it takes a lot of energy to battle breezy conditions.

To protect your butterflies from constant breezy winds, try to position your nectar and host plants where the house, a fence, or a line of trees will buffer the wind. If necessary, plant taller shrubs or trees to obstruct the gusty winds from your butterfly garden.

5) Plant Nectar In Considerable Portions

An adult orange black-spotted butterfly feeds on the nectar of yellow flowers.

Butterflies are nearsighted, and can only see quite well within 10 to 12 inches of an object, so distance beyond that appears to be blurry.

These traits make them excellent at distinguishing colors, making them see reds, unlike bees. To attract butterflies, try to plant your nectar plants in considerable portions.

Extensive areas of the same shades will be easier for butterflies to see from a distance and will encourage them to come in for a closer look.

6) Create Puddles For Butterflies To Drink

A group of butterflies puddling in the ground.
Image by: content.yardmap.org

Like the birds who drink from birdbaths and fountains, butterflies drink too. They try to get water by taking up moisture and essential minerals by drinking from mud puddles.

Puddles in soil have minerals and salt that are important for butterflies in various ways. These puddles act both as a source of nourishment and a means of reproduction.

For butterfly reproduction, males usually need more nutrients to transfer on to females when mating. Females often lose this sodium when laying eggs.

Since the females receive sodium from their male partners, their sodium requirement isn’t that much.

However, males need sodium to develop bigger muscles and are always on a hunt to supply these needs. And including puddles in your butterfly habitat is necessary to make them stay in your garden.

As you can see, males lose sodium and need extra to share for their female partner during mating, making puddling a typical behavior, particularly in male butterflies.

Including a few plashing sites will invite butterflies into your garden. To create puddles, sink a dish tub in the ground, fill it with sand and make sure to wet the sand with your garden hose each day.

Another way to provide puddling sites for your butterflies is the use of soaker hose to water your garden beds. This is an excellent option to use as puddling sites for butterflies.

If your budget is limited and you can’t afford to provide drip irrigation in your garden, you can also try this budget-friendly technique.

  • Get and fill an empty milk jug with water.
  • Hang the container in a spot accessible to butterflies.
  • Poke a small hole at the bottom to allow the water to drip out slowly.
  • Dripping water will generate a small damp area for your butterflies.

7) Birds Feeders and Birdbaths Should Be Kept Away From Your Butterfly Habitat

A bird with a caterpillar in its beak.
Image by: audubon.org

You will find lots of creatures that will make a butterfly as their diet. Numerous animals like birds need to make a meal out of butterflies to live.

Usually, people find these insects beautiful and often love birds too. When creating a backyard habitat, always consider the predator-prey relationship in your yard. Take note that birds prey on insects.

Placing a birdbath in the center of your butterfly garden will provide birds with a one-stop-shop, making it an all you can eat buffet of caterpillars in your garden.

8) Provide Shield For Overwintering Butterflies And Caterpillars

The life cycle of the butterfly.

People often regard butterflies as summer insects. But where do butterflies go during winter? Monarch butterflies usually migrate to Mexico, but some butterflies survive the winter by going into a state of diapause, meaning hiding out until warm weather returns.

Butterflies in diapause suspend physiological functions and enter into a hibernation-like state. After freezing weather conditions pass, they will come out of this state and return to normal functioning.

Butterflies and even moths may overwinter in any of their four life stages.

  • Butterfly like swallowtails usually overwinter in the pupal stage, wrapped inside a chrysalis in a protected location.
  • Tiger moths, most notably the Isabella tiger or woolly bear as a caterpillar, often overwinter in the larval stage.
  • A large number of butterflies survive the freezing weather in the adult stage, by tucking themselves under loose bark or wrapping inside a tree cavity.

Thinking about how you can provide winter shelter for your butterflies and moths will help them survive and thrive in your garden. Leaving the fall leaf litter in a portion of your yard for hibernating caterpillars is one way to protect them.

9) Avoid Using Pesticides

A lifeless caterpillar due to insect spray.
Image by: npr.org

Providing habitat for your butterflies is different from gardening for aesthetics. Caterpillars need foliage to feed on, so you’ll have to be tolerant of leaves with holes, or even find your plants with no leaves at all.

Some caterpillars like swallowtail even feed on plants you and your pets can eat like dill or fennel from your vegetable garden. If you’re trying to support these insects in your backyard, learn to share. Plant some more, so there’s enough for you and the caterpillars.

If your garden pests reach to the point where you need to intervene, try to use the least toxic method first. The use of a hydrogen peroxide solution is one of the best ways to apply a natural pest control. Another way is to use the natural technique, by allowing predators to take care of the pests.

Insecticides such as malathion, Sevin, diazinon, and other harsh chemicals sold commercially to kill insects should not be used near your butterfly habitat or anywhere on your property. Even a mild chemical is harmful to butterflies, particularly to caterpillars.

10) Provide Butterfly Feeders

Owl butterfly feeds on the nectar of an orange in a mini-dish glass feeder.

If your space is too small to plant nectar-filled flowers, you can consider providing a butterfly feeder in your garden.

Butterfly feeders typically have a reservoir filled with homemade nectar and a spot to place some fruit. Some butterfly species prefer rotting fruit and skip nectar altogether.

Butterflies prefer diverse food sources like overripe fruit or rotting vegetation. You can allow fallen fruits like apples, oranges, plums, cherries or pears to ripen on the ground and create a feeding spot. Also, consider saving bananas in your freezer, which you can defrost and place in your butterfly feeder at any time.

You can also make your butterfly food using these following procedures:

  • Mix a solution of 10 parts water to 1 part granulated sugar
  • Boil the mixture until the sugar is completely liquified.
  • Let it cool. (You can store the excess solution in your refrigerator for up to a week.)

Another alternative recipe:

  • Cut up a dozen of over-ripe bananas into chunks.
  • Add two cans of cheap beer.
  • Add one or two bottles of molasses.
  • Add a pound of brown sugar.
  • Let it ferment for about a week.

The easiest recipe:

  • Save any overripe fruit.
  • Add a squirt of honey.
  • Blend coarsely in a blender.
  • Divide the mixture into a freezer container.

11) Provide A Resting Spot

A black-orange adult butterfly with white spots on its wings resting on top of a flat stone.

In addition to providing a safe spot for your butterflies to soak up the sun, consider rocks as great areas for resting spots. These creatures are easily fascinated by the boulders heated by the sun to dry their wings. The sight of butterflies resting on top of flat stones help to improve the natural charm of your garden. Allow them to enjoy the warmth of the rocks while basking in the sun.

You can utilize flat stones as stone pathways. Butterflies can use them as a perfect spot for sunbathing and warm their wings for flight, while you can use them as a pathway when visiting your garden.

Great List of Butterflies and Caterpillars Plants

  • Violets
  • Milkweed
  • Asters
  • Dill
  • Parsley
  • Carrot
  • Fennel
  • Joe-Pye weed
  • Ironweed
  • Yellow coneflowers
  • Goldenrod
  • Brightly-hued asters 
  • Bluebells
  • Marigolds
  • Buttercups
  • Hyacinths
  • Clover
  • Garden mint
  • Knapweed
  • Coreopsis
  • Thistles
  • Blackberry bushes
  • Heather
  • Lavender
  • Bowles’ Mauve wallflower
  • Marjoram
  • Willowherbs
  • Chrysanthemum

The list of plants provided above can help you make a good start in your butterfly garden. Gradually you can add as you go, but many of these species can look at their best from late summer until fall, a time when butterflies showcase their beauty and elegantly flap in your garden.

Final Thoughts On How To Attract Butterflies To Your Garden

Creating a beautiful butterfly garden requires basic knowledge. You have to think about the kind of butterflies you would like to attract and which flowers and plants feed them better. Adult butterflies tend to pay their visit much longer if they find a perfect plant host to lay their eggs.

To make butterflies come into your backyard, you have to consider providing what they need. And to provide what they need requires a few key steps.

  • Learn to think like a butterfly to know what they prefer.
  • Position your garden site in full sun, yet protect them from constant strong winds.
  • Ensure to provide host and nectar plants, both for caterpillars and adult butterflies.
  • Consider providing alternative foods like ripe fruits and sugar solutions to attract more butterflies in the season.
  • Butterflies need the sun to regulate their body temperature and dry their wings. By providing a resting spot like a flat stone will allow them to bask and enjoy the sun.
  • Butterflies are near-sighted and are fascinated by large portions of plants and flowers.
  • Provide mud puddles for your butterflies to gather and get adequate sodium.
  • Learn to tolerate some holes and leaf damages caused by caterpillars, which will soon turn into beautiful butterflies.
  • Use natural techniques of pest management in your butterfly habitat.
  • Customize and try out diverse methods to attract specific preferred species.

To make the butterflies populate your garden requires a bit of dedication. However, success will make your morning tea taste like it never has before!

About Benita Abucejo

Hi there! My name is Benita Abucejo. What can I say? I truly love spending my days in the outdoors, specifically in the garden. Gardening has always been a strong passion of mine since I was a little girl. It has brought me so much joy and happiness that it is definitely safe to say that I will be a gardener for life. For a period of time, I was able to work with people who are into home gardening and I found it to be quite beneficial to my physical health, as well as my mental well-being. Here at Seasonal Preferences, I am going to share with you my experience and ideas so that you can fulfill yourself with the same satisfaction and happiness. Of course, if you have ideas, I would love to hear those as well! Being creative in the garden can really be quite fascinating so let's share our experiences and be the best gardeners we can be. With that being said, thank you for dropping by and please leave me a comment on one of my posts if you would like to get in touch!

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