Designing a Garden to Attract Butterflies

Butterflies linger in sunny places

Because they are “cold blooded”, butterflies require warmth to be active. They do this by basking in the sunlight. Rarely do they spend much time in the shade. When choosing a spot for your butterfly garden, choose a sunny area. This will fulfill one more requirement for the butterfly and provide one more “reason” to linger in your garden. Oddly enough, most plants attracting butterfly adults grow well in sunny exposures.

Butterflies linger in places protected from the wind

Because they are more wing than body, butterflies are affected by gusts of wind. They linger longer in sunny locations, protected from the wind. Wind protection can be in the form of a fence, wall, house, hedge, or a tree lined area. So when choosing a place for your butterfly garden pick a sunny spot that is protected somewhat from the wind. Such protection will form a pleasant viewing backdrop for your butterfly garden.

Butterflies require moisture and minerals

Butterflies will linger where moisture and minerals are provided.  Like all creatures, butterflies require water to live. Although plant nectar is mostly water with dissolved sugars it is fairly low in mineral salts needed to maintain their “animal” metabolism. Butterflies cannot “drink” from bodies of water like most animals can. They must “lick” water from moist surfaces. A basin of moist soil, with added salts, especially sodium from ordinary table salt will provide the nutrients needed by the butterflies. BE SURE TO KEEP THE BASIN MOIST. The top of a conventional birdbath, slightly sunken in the ground provides a decorative container for moist soil.

Butterflies linger where there is a source of nectar

By following the plant suggestions on the following pages you will provide your adult butterfly friends with a season long source of nectar. You will also provide a quiet corner of the world for yourself, filled with a kaleidoscope of color and shapes. A butterfly garden attracts beauty in all its forms. Many of the same flowers that attract butterflies, attract hummingbirds.

People will want to linger in your butterfly garden to watch the butterflies and relax
How much fun would a garden of any kind be if we weren’t able to enjoy it to its full potential. Place your butterfly garden in areas that you linger or will want to linger to enjoy the beauty you have created and the butterflies that are attracted to it. Provide a bench, gazebo, garden path or maybe just place for lawn chairs so you can relax and enjoy the entire experience.

Butterflies have a life cycle

Butterflies have two feeding stages: the caterpillar and the mature stage. You may choose to provide food sources for both stages by planting plants that provide leaf material for the chewing caterpillars as well as the nectar plants for the adults. Some plants provide both. When you think about it, you can’t have one stage without the other. In order to perpetuate the butterfly population locally, adequate caterpillar food has to be present in your locale.

Butterflies are insects too

The same insecticides used to kill unwanted insects will also affect the butterflies and their caterpillars. (Along with the other beneficial insects like honey bees.) If you don’t already do so, you may want to share your butterfly garden with the creatures you designed the garden to attract. Planting a variety of plants in the same garden greatly decreases the chances of any one being ruined by insects. Besides, in the long run, are a few aphids so much to put up with to insure a safe haven for your butterflies?

Additional Information


Brooklyn Botanical Garden 
Gardening for Wildlife. 1987
Plants and Gardens, Brooklyn Botanical Garden Record 43 (3).

Attracting Backyard Wildlife
Merilees, B. 1989
Voyageur Press.

The Butterfly Garden
Tekulsky, M. 1985.
Harvard Common Press.

Grow a Butterfly Garden
Potter-Springer, W. 1990
Garden Way.

Butterfly Gardening
Xerces Society/Smithsonian Institution. 1990
Sierra Club Books.

The Butterfly Book
Stokes, D. and L., Williams, E. 1991
Little, Brown and Company.

Established Butterfly Gardens in New England

The Butterfly Place,
Papillon Park,
120 Tyngsboro Rd., Westford MA 01885

Newport Butterfly Farm,
594 Aquidneck Ave., Middleton RI 02842

Websites About Butterflies

The North American Butterfly Association