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by Garden Writer

Close up for a butterfly

Butterflies are one of the most amazing creatures.  They have four distinct life cycle stages--egg, larvae, pupae, and adult. They go from egg to caterpillar then make it to adult as a butterfly.  In order to plant a successful  butterfly garden, you have to plant food plants, also known as host plants, and you must plant nectar plants for the adults.

The caterpillar feeds on the leaves of its host plant. Once it has eaten all it needs, it creates a protective cover called a chrysalis.  Inside its chrysalis, it begins growing its wings. This takes numerous days depending on the species.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Gardening for butterflies is easier than you think!

 Here's where the fun begins for you.  First you need to learn what type of butterflies live in your area. You can do this by spending some time outdoors with a butterfly field guide or visiting Butterflies and Moths of North America I would also suggest you learn caterpillar identification.  Mostly so you don't hurt them.

Butterfly gardens can be any size - a container, part of your flower beds, or in a wildflower area. Having many small flowers packed tightly in an area is very desirable to butterflies.  To attract the widest variety of butterflies, a variety of colored flowers is best.  Mass plantings of a flower type are more attractive than just one or two. You also need to compare bloom time for nectar flowers.  Consider flowers that bloom in sequence. This is particularly important during summer when flower-visiting by butterflies is most frequent.

Monarch on flower

Butterflies are relatively weak fliers.  When choosing a spot for your butterfly garden, look for a spot that has the least wind. If your whole yard is windy, plant several butterfly bushes or possibly large, dense perennials on the windward side of your butterfly patch, so that the butterflies can feed in peace on the flowers.

You will also need at least 5-6 hours of sun. Butterflies need warmth to fly. Speaking of warmth, they love to sun on rocks.  Place a few flat rocks in your flower beds for them to rest on.  Butterflies also need water just like we do.  I suggest a small pan or tray of some type which you can add sand, dirt and water.  This creates an area for them to puddle. Some butterflies are attracted to fermenting fruit, so I like to put over-ripe fruit in a small hanging bird bath.  Red admirals and mourning cloaks may visit these (Be aware it could attract unwanted critters).

Adult butterflies are not as picky about their nectar plants. Caterpillars, on the other hand, are very picky when it comes to their host food. In many cases, caterpillars of a species feed on only a very limited variety.  Bringing caterpillar foods into your garden can greatly increase your chances of attracting butterflies.

Wildflowers of any type are important to your garden. Not only will they bring a new aspect to your garden, but will also enhance the attraction for the butterflies.  You may notice some of the flowers end in "weed". Weed is subjective. Butterflies need what we call "weeds" as part of either their host/food plant or nectar plant.

There are many plants to choose from. Below is a list of some reliable flowers.

Favorite Nectar Plants:


Favorite Host Plants:

Butterfly Type Favorite Host Plants Nectar Needs
Black Swallowtail Larval: Parsley, Dill, Fennel, Carrot Leaves, Queen Anne's Lace
Buckeye Butterfly Larval: Snapdragon
Comma Larval: Nettle, Elm Rotting Fruit & Sap
Gulf & Variegated Fritillary Larval: Passion Flower Vine
Great Swallowtail Larval: Citrus Trees, Prickly Ash
Great Spangled Fritillary Larval: Violet, Passion Flower Vine
Monarch Larval: Milkweed And Butterfly Weed
Mourning Cloak Larval: Willow, Elm, Poplar, Aspen, Birch, Hackberry Rotting Fruit & Sap, Butterfly Bush
Painted Lady Larval: Daisies, Hollyhocks
Pipevine Swallowtail Larval: Dutchman's Pipevine
Red Admiral Larval: Nettle Rotting Fruit And Sap
Tiger Swallowtail Larval: Cherry, Ash, Birch, Tulip Tree, Lilac
Viceroy Larval: Willow, Poplar, Apple Rotting Fruit & Sap

Remember, do NOT use pesticides in your garden!

Connie EtterConnie Etter is an American Meadows customer from Indiana, gardening in Zone 6. Connie not only loves to garden but also is a professional photographer and we are thrilled to accompany her blog with her own gorgeous photos.