How to Build a Successful Butterfly Garden

Fine Gardening – Issue 211
elements of a butterfly garden
Illustration: Elara Tanguy

With their populations in decline, butterflies need all the help they can get. Host and nectar plants are the key components for a butterfly garden. However, it’s a good idea to also include a few other elements and to follow these tips, which can turn your backyard into a home-sweet-home butterfly garden. Learn more about creating a butterfly haven.

Plants and features in a butterfly garden plan

  1. Sweet bay magnolia
  2. Common milkweed
  3. Yin® and Yang® David viburnums
  4. ‘Totally Tangerine’ geum
  5. ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ coneflower
  6. ‘Bumblesnow’ meadow salvia
  7. ‘Baby Joe’ Joe Pye weed
  8. Butterfly basking rock
  9. Butterfly puddling station

Pack in the color

A garden full of color and blooms attracts butterflies. Think about putting your plants a little closer together than normal so that you create a blanket of color when they are blooming. Butterflies will visit because of your colorful garden, but they will stick around if you have their host plants too.

Provide a place to drink in water and nutrients

A puddling station is an area where butterflies can suck up some water, minerals, and nutrients from wet soil or sand. To create a puddling station, fill a pot that has no drainage holes with a mixture of soil, sand, and water, and then layer the top with some larger rocks for butterflies to sit on while they sip up the water.

Choose a location with lots of sun

When you are looking for a site to create a butterfly garden, pick one that has a bright exposure. Butterflies love the sun and need it to warm their bodies enough to fly. Throughout the garden, also set out flat rocks so that the butterflies can sit on them and warm up faster when the day is cool. This process is known as basking.

Don’t clean up until spring

Not all butterflies migrate for the winter. Some may overwinter in your garden. So when the season ends and everything looks dead, don’t go straight out there and clean it all up. You are risking throwing away some of our overwintering friends. Wait until spring, and allow those butterflies to break dormancy before you clean up your butterfly garden.

Eric Perrette is a lead horticulturist at Powell Gardens in Kingsville, Missouri, and has expertise in native butterflies and their habitats.

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