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
This Atala Butterfly
(left) and this
Zebra Heliconian Butterfly
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
We call the plant(s) that a butterfly will lay eggs on its
. In order to have resident
, you need host plants.
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
butterflies will all lay
eggs on it, and Monarch Butterflies
are found in a lot of
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.
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,
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
Your resources might include:
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
to look up butterflies that live near you in the United States.
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
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.
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.
If you plant a host plant
, and it grows up enough to support
, but you don't have
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
), while others (like the
) 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.
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
the Firebush is the nectar plant; the butterflies extend their proboscis
into the flower to sip nectar.
Fun Find a Butterfly Photo
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.