Butterfly Garden Basics  
The most simplified butterfly garden I can think of is a flower in a pot. A passing butterfly can stop to have a sip of nectar from the flower.

The next easiest butterfly garden is a flower garden; you get similar results to the flower in a pot, but a better chance of attracting a stray butterfly since you have more flowers.

Are you ready to get serious about your butterfly garden? The first two things you need are Host Plants and Nectar Plants.
This Atala Butterfly (left) and this Zebra Heliconian Butterfly (right) are laying eggs on their host plants.

Butterflies are picky; most will lay eggs on just one kind of plant, others will use several different plants.

We call the plant(s) that a butterfly will lay eggs on its Host Plant. In order to have resident butterflies, you need host plants.
Atala Butterfly Lays Eggs On Coontie
Zebra Heliconian Butterfly Lays Eggs On Passiflora Suberosa
Zebra Heliconian Butterfly Lays Eggs On Passiflora Suberosa
Zebra Heliconian Caterpillar
Stinging IO Moth Caterpillar
You can plant all the flowers you want, but if there is no place for baby butterflies (caterpillars), your butterfly garden will be a flower garden, and nothing more. For starters, most of us can use Milkweed. Monarch, Queen, and Soldier butterflies will all lay eggs on it, and Monarch Butterflies are found in a lot of places.
Butterfly Caterpillars come in all sorts of colors and designs. This Zebra Heliconian Butterfly Caterpillar is white with soft black spines. I've held many of them, and never had a problem.

Some moth caterpillars, like the IO Moth, can sting, so make sure you know what you're picking up before you touch it with bare hands. We all wash our hands when we come inside, so there's no need to remind you that it's safest to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling anything outside, right?

So, where to begin?

    First you need to choose a butterfly that you want in your garden that lives in your area. Not all butterflies live everywhere. There are two approaches to this, in no particular order:

    1 - Visit natural areas near you; natural parks, fields, and forest edges are good places to begin. Look for butterflies. Bring a camera if you can, or take notes. Choose the butterfly you like the most, find out what it is, find out what host plant it uses, and plant it. Also plant nectar plants; those are flowers that the butterflies sip nectar from; it's their food after they're adult butterflies. You need them so the butterflies that emerge after the caterpillars become chrysalides stick around to amuse you.

    2 - Use resources available to you to find out what butterflies live in your area. Look at pictures of them.  Choose one. Plant its host plant.  Your resources might include:

        The internet:
            Look at the butterfly photos on my site, and click one to see more photos of it and  read about it.
            Search for a NABA chapter near you, and visit their site.
            (My personal favorite:) Use the map search on http://http://butterfliesandmoths.org/map to look up butterflies that live near you in the United States.

    People:

        Find other butterfly gardeners near you and talk to them.

P.S. Look at your weeds; lots of Lawn Weeds are excellent host and nectar plants!

So, in summary, find your starter butterfly, get its host plant, and plant it.

Say, for example, that you want Monarch Butterflies Like this lady Monarch below who visited a Milkweed in a pot on my porch. Plant Milkweed;. Milkweed is both a host and nectar plant for Monarchs.

If you want a different butterfly, find out what host plant it uses, plant it, and plant some nectar plants. Try to observe the butterfly you want in the wild, and plant nectar plants that you've seen it use.

Monarch Butterfly Sips Nectar From Milkweed
This Monarch Butterfly flew up, sipped some nectar from the Milkweed flowers, and started laying eggs. In the photo below her abdomen is tipped up under the leaf where she's laying an egg:
On one hand, I'm delighted to be looking forward to Monarch caterpillars munching up my plant. On the other hand - mistake alert - I just went out and tipped the pot sideways to get an easy view of the underside of the leaves, and at a quick glance I counted 7 eggs. One caterpillar will easily eat an entire milkweed plant. I have seven eggs on one plant. See the problem? In about 2 weeks they'll hatch, and in about 3 weeks, I'll be out of caterpillar food.

Fortunately I have a few other Milkweed plants scattered about my yard that I can move the caterpillars to, but when I started my butterfly garden that wasn't always the case. In fact, I'll probably still have to share some of these caterpillars with my mom, who fortunately has tons of Milkweed in her garden right now. Sometimes caterpillars are 'feast or famine'; plan accordingly.

Monarch Butterfly Lays Eggs On Milkweed
If you plant a host plant, and it grows up enough to support caterpillars, but you don't have butterflies laying eggs on it, visit your local plant nurseries. They're generally delighted (but they think you're nuts) if you ask permission to pluck caterpillars from their plants and take them home. That's how I got my Polydamas Swallowtail Butterflies. Also, consider that some butterflies tend to stay near home (like the Zebra Heliconian), while others (like the Monarch and Giant Swallowtail) fly over a large area so you won't see as many of them in your garden every day, but you're more likely to have one drop in. You might have to go get the butterflies that stick to home, but patience will usually get you the far flying butterflies; they'll eventually find the habitat you create for them.
Zebra Heliconian Butterfly Lays Eggs On Passiflora Suberosa, Red Firebush Berries in the background
There are as many ways to set up a garden as there are people to decide how it ought to be done.  As I get time, I'll describe a few things I've done and why, and what's worked, and what hasn't.

A quick example: I generally use a tree, tree stump, or a bush as a trellis for my Passiflora vines. The hurricanes can blow down any artificial trellis, and it becomes a hazard in the high winds. The trees and bushes have roots, so while I have lost a few, and a lot of branches, most of them stick around and both the vine and the tree or bush that holds it up tend to grow back.

Passiflora Suberosa and Firebush make a great combination as you can see in the photo below. The Zebra Heliconian butterfly is laying an egg on the Passiflora. The Passiflora is using the Firebush as a trellis. The butterflies are all over it, all of the time, because the two together meet all of their needs as long as the Firebush is in bloom. The Passiflora is the host plant, providing food for the caterpillars, and the Firebush is the nectar plant; the butterflies extend their proboscis into the flower to sip nectar.

Fun Find a Butterfly Photo This photo is large, so I've just posted a link to it. It's a fun photo of at least six Zebra Heliconian butterflies nectaring on my Firebush. See if you can find them all.  There were seven there, but one either escaped the photo, or has its wings folded so it's hard to see.

The Zebras like the Firebush a lot better than the Salvia you can see behind it, but the Sulphur Butterflies visit the Salvia, so I'm glad I have both. Yes... I need to weed the garden someday.

Site Map:
Butterflies
Moths
Caterpillars
Diving, Wading & Wetland Birds
Warblers & Little Birds
More Birds
Snakes, Lizards, and Slithery Critters
Spiders
Squishy Bugs
Crunchy Bugs
More Creatures
Butterfly Nectar Plants
Butterfly & Moth Host Plants
Wetland plants
Vines
Lawn Weeds
Wildflowers
Other Plants & Fungi
Shrub, Bush & Tree Sized Plants
Paper Folding: Origami Bird, Egg, and Nest
Paper Quilling: Snowflake Ornaments
Cut Paper Snowflakes
Butterfly Garden Basics
My Email, Image Use Information, Credits & Disclaimer
Index of everything that didn't fit on one of the other main pages
Privacy Policy