How to Design a Butterfly Garden

Swallowtail butterfly drinking nectar from my flowering Spirea bush! (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

Butterflies are perhaps Nature’s most delicate creatures. Who doesn’t love to watch a fluttering butterfly as it moves from flower to flower seeking sweet nectar? My white and lavender butterfly bushes were completely covered with all sorts of butterflies last summer. Even a cute little hummingbird moth was a regular visitor. In this post, we will explore how to design a butterfly garden of your own.

A lovely butterfly on the coneflowers at my local Home Depot
A lovely butterfly on the coneflowers at my local Home Depot (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

Butterflies are attracted to sweet smelling and brightly colored flowers. Butterflies like plants with lots of flowers as well as plants with only one “champion” flower. Flowering plants with tall spires of flowers, such as hollyhock and foxglove, are favorites. Place your butterfly garden in a sunny area for months of summery blooms and many fluttering visitors! Your local garden center should have many plant options for a butterfly garden that will do well in your area. If deer browsing is a problem, be sure to plant only deer-resistant varieties.

Pretty Rose of Sharon, purple coneflowers, and blue scabiosa are popular with butterflies (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Pretty Rose of Sharon, purple coneflowers, and blue scabiosa are popular with butterflies (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Endless Summer Hydrangea bloom reaches to the sky (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Endless Summer Hydrangea bloom reaches to the sky (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

You will want to have host plants so that your butterflies can lay their eggs and their caterpillars will have some nourishment as they grow strong. Also, offer some nectar plants for the adult butterflies.

Butterfly Life Cycle (Photo Courtesy of kingstonfieldnaturalist.org)
Butterfly Life Cycle (Photo Courtesy of kingstonfieldnaturalist.org)

In case you didn’t know, birds and dragonflies are butterfly predators. Cats like to chase butterflies, too. Butterflies can fly high and sometimes fast so they can usually escape the predators in your garden.

You can plant the lovely sweet smelling honeysuckle vine to attract many butterflies to your garden! My honeysuckle vine shares space with a climbing rose where they intertwine to provide a spectacular show of blooms.

Climbing red rose mingles with honeysuckle vine to attract butterflies and bees (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Climbing red rose mingles with honeysuckle vine to attract butterflies and bees (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Pink Lemonade Honeysuckle
“Pink Lemonade” honeysuckle cascades over a deck railing. (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

My absolute favorite butterfly attractant is the Buddleia, or butterfly bush. Buddleias come in many colors from white to lavender to deep purple to magenta and even a yellow version. Gardeners love the buddleias for their wispy growth habit and abundance of sweet-smelling flowers from May/June through frost. Buddleias are deer-resistant as well which is a huge plus in my garden. My lavender and white buddleias self-seed readily. Haven’t had as much luck with the deep purple ones having baby plants. Maybe in a few years it will happen. One important note — be sure to cut back buddleias by about 2/3 in the March timeframe or early Spring in your area for the best flower performance.

Super gorgeous butterfly attractant -- the sweet-smelling flower from the Buddleia -- butterfly bush!!!!   (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Super gorgeous butterfly attractant — the sweet-smelling flower from the Buddleia — butterfly bush!!!! (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

My front garden was full of purple coneflowers last year, and orange coneflowers with yellow black-eyed susans the year before. I try to change the color scheme each summer, so this year it’s some yellow and white coneflowers. The coneflowers are also deer-resistant which is important in my front garden bed.

Black-eyed Susans and Coneflowers are great options for a butterfly garden!  (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Black-eyed Susans and Coneflowers are great options for a butterfly garden! (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Yellow Coneflowers -- see the happy bees?  I count THREE!  Butterflies like 'em too!   (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Yellow Coneflowers — see the happy bees? I count THREE! Butterflies like ’em too! (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

Try to limit or eliminate insecticides in your butterfly garden. The caterpillars that precede the butterflies and moths will gain their nourishment from the plant leaves and will be harmed by poisons. Sometimes the caterpillars are more fun to watch than the adult butterflies!

Burgundy Clematis Vine attracts butterflies (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Burgundy Clematis Vine attracts butterflies (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
A selection of colorful petunias with a red geranium and some white lobelia.   (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
A selection of colorful petunias with a red geranium and some white lobelia. (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

Some of my favorite caterpillars are those of the swallowtail butterfly. They tend to love my parsley plants, and will devour them…but that’s ok with me. There’s enough parsley to go around.

Gorgeous Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly larva (Photo Courtesy FCPS.edu)
Gorgeous Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly larva (Photo Courtesy FCPS.edu)
Beautiful purple clematis vine and yellow daylilies at Merrifield Garden Center's Display Gardens  (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Beautiful purple clematis vine and yellow daylilies at Merrifield Garden Center’s Display Gardens (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

Place some large stones or boulders in your butterfly garden so the butterflies can bask in the sunlight and warm up before they take flight. Offer water basins so butterflies can take a drink.

Shasta Daisies will attract butterflies and also make their human owners happy!   (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Shasta Daisies will attract butterflies and also make their human owners happy! (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Butterfly-attracting Queen Anne's Lace grows next to Rosemary at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Butterfly-attracting Queen Anne’s Lace grows next to Rosemary at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
The first swallowtail butterfly of the 2003 Spring season warms itself on a fallen log (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
The first swallowtail butterfly of the 2003 Spring season warms itself on a fallen log (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

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PLANTS THAT ATTRACT BUTTERFLIES

Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)

Cosmos

Honeysuckle Vine

Rose

Butterfly Weed

Clematis

Hydrangea

Coneflower

Foxglove

Hardy Hibiscus

Liatris

Lobelia

Phlox

Azalea

Verbena

Parsley

Tickseed

Coreopsis

Delphinium

Shasta Daisy

Petunia

Queen Anne’s Lace

Lamb’s Ear

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Below are some butterfly garden plans that incorporate some favorite plants — remember to add some gravel and rocks for warming purposes:

One of my butterfly garden design plans for your use!
One of my butterfly garden design plans for your use! I like to plant en-mass so put as many plants as you like into the shaded areas.
Butterfly Garden Design courtesy of University of Kentucky (Photo Credit uky.edu)
Butterfly Garden Design courtesy of University of Kentucky (Photo Credit uky.edu)
A butterfly garden design plan from Urban Debris (Photo Credit: urbandebris.com)
A butterfly garden design plan from Urban Debris (Photo Credit: urbandebris.com)

Here are some images of favorite butterfly garden plants:

A selection of flowering plants for a Butterfly Garden at Merrifield Garden Center (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
A selection of flowering plants for a Butterfly Garden at Merrifield Garden Center (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Pretty red coneflower will attract many butterflies and bees! (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Pretty red coneflower will attract many butterflies and bees! (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Yellow Coreopsis equals Butterfly Heaven!  Plant some coreopsis in your butterfly garden.   (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Yellow Coreopsis equals Butterfly Heaven! Plant some coreopsis in your butterfly garden. (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
This Lambs Ear plant is a bit different from the usual fuzzy gray version -- and a butterfly attractant!  (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
This Lambs Ear plant is a bit different from the usual fuzzy gray version — and a butterfly attractant! (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Butterflies will happily visit the lovely "Camelot Lavender" foxglove flowers.   (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Butterflies will happily visit the lovely “Camelot Lavender” foxglove flowers. (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
White Delphinium's tall spires of flowers attract lots of butterflies.  (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
White Delphinium’s tall spires of flowers attract lots of butterflies. (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Yellow and red "Cosmos" Tickseed is a favorite of butterflies and bees  (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)
Yellow and red “Cosmos” Tickseed is a favorite of butterflies and bees (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

Other links about butterfly gardens:

How to Attract Butterflies — World Wildlife Federation

Better Homes and Gardens Butterfly Garden Plan

Lowes’ Butterfly Garden Design Plan

Rearing Butterflies and Moths

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What’s your favorite butterfly garden design? What plants do you prefer for your butterfly garden? Leave a comment and let me know!

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