build a butterfly garden

Butterfly Garden

If you are interested in attracting butterflies to your garden, there are some things to keep in mind. Butterflies need several things to be enticed to stay in an area. Like other animals, they require food, shelter, water, and a place to raise their young.

Food: Most adult butterflies feed on nectar that they get from flowers. Having flowers that are rich in nectar will attract butterflies to your yard. Butterflies are attracted by a dense patch of plantings – after all, they fly overhead, and it is easier for them to see a big patch of colorful flowers, rather than scattered, isolated flowers. So plant your flowers in big groups. Butterflies are particularly attracted by yellow, orange, and purple.

Shelter: Butterflies need trees to roost in for the night, to seek shade in during the heat of the day, and to hang onto in case of a storm.

Water: Butterflies don’t typically drink plain water, but they are attracted by water with dissolved minerals and other nutrients in damp soil and sand, often along stream and river banks and near puddles. They land on damp surfaces and extend their proboscis to suck up the nutrient-laden water. So leave some puddles when you water your garden.

Places to raise young: Here is the real key to attracting butterflies to your yard. In addition to nectar plants, be sure to plant host plants. Host plants are the plants on which the butterflies lay their eggs and that the caterpillars then eat. Generally each butterfly species has one or a few specific host plants that it uses. For instance, queen and monarch butterflies will only lay eggs on milkweed plants and their caterpillars will only eat milkweed plants; cloudless sulphur and sleepy orange butterflies will only use senna plants; gulf fritillaries will only use passion vine. If you plant host plants the butterflies are very likely to find them, and they will STAY around, since they have their host plants available for egg laying.

Butterflies, like most insects, are most active when it is warm, so we don’t see very many during the cold months.

Step 1: Select a site for your Butterfly Garden

Provide Shelter

A variety of broad-leafed trees and shrubs will provide cover from wind, rain and predators.

Give Them Sun

Locate your butterfly garden in a sunny site; if you can’t find a protected spot, plant a windbreak of mid-sized cultivars of dense conifers like spruce, juniper or cypress.

Step 2: Remember the Rocks

Invite Butterflies to Sunbathe

As cold-blooded insects, butterflies like to seek spots to bask in the sun and warm their wings for flight. Create a few perches out of the wind; chances are you’ll also see them resting on a sunny rock or on top of a fence post.

Step 3: Provide Water

Create a Butterfly Puddle

Put a mixture of sand and soil in a plant saucer or a shallow bowl and add enough water to saturate the mixture thoroughly, but not so much that there’s standing water. Butterflies like to rest on wet sand or soil and absorb moisture and minerals from it. If the “drinking station” dries out too fast in your climate, sink a bucket filled with a wet mixture of soil and sand into the ground. Surround your puddle with a ring of flat stones that can absorb sunlight and provide a place for butterflies to sun. Try to site your stones where they’ll absorb morning sunlight.

Step 4: Add Plants that Attract Butterflies

Choose a wide range of flowering plants that differ in color, type of flower and bloom time to welcome multiple butterfly species and give them plenty of options.


Remember that butterflies and caterpillars are insects. Insecticides will kill butterflies and caterpillars. Avoid using insecticides in your garden.

Please note that many plant distributors spray their plants so they will look nice on display. Tell the nursery staff that you are buying plants for a butterfly garden and that you want to be sure the host plants haven’t been sprayed. Give your plants a good shower with the hose when you plant to rinse off any topical insecticide. Some insecticides are systemic, meaning they the poison is in the plant. It can take a long time for this kind of insecticide to work its way out of the plant.

Some plants and flowers that attract butterflies

1. Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

2. Sedum (Crassulaceae)

3. Sea Holly (Eryngium)

4. Penta (Pentas lanceolata)

5. Lavender (Lavandula)

6. Marigold (Tagetes)

7. Pink Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla)

8. Coneflower (Echinacea)

9. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

10. Verbena (Verbenaceae)

11. Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

12. Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)


Visit Tucson’s butterfly Garden:

Tucson Botanical Garden Butterfly & Orchid Pavilion

Learn more about Butterflies:

Central Arizona Butterfly Association

Get free Native seeds to plant:

Pima County Seed Library

Buy a Butterfly Garden kit locally:

Mildred & Dildred

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