Butterfly gardens are a nice addition to backyard garden design plans. Visits to your garden from butterflies are fun for children and adults alike. Butterflies are not only beautiful, but their graceful fluttering wings also add calm movement to your garden space. The flowers that attract butterflies also create alluring settings for people. So let’s get to work on designing a butterfly garden.
Your first step is to find an area that receives full sun. According to the National Wildlife Federation, butterflies prefer to visit flowers in the sunshine.
One of the nice things about butterflies is that they aren’t shy. They will flutter right around people, so you can pick any location in your yard–even next to a patio, window, or doorway. (Birds can be shy, so they may only visit a bird garden as long as people aren’t nearby–except for hummingbirds who have no problems whizzing by your head.)
The area you choose for your butterfly garden doesn’t have to be large. In fact, you may want to designate several, small sunny areas of your garden as butterfly gardens.
After you have picked a sunny location for a butterfly garden, then select the flowers. In Pollination and Plant Families, Stein Carter writes that butterflies choose flowers by their sight, not smell. Butterflies do not have a good sense of smell, but they do have a good sense of sight.
Butterflies like bright flowers. (Note that butterflies can see red but that bees cannot, so if you’re worried about having too many bees buzzing around a particular area, you can choose mostly red flowers for your butterfly garden.)
The shape and clustering of the flowers make a difference too. Butterflies like to stand while gathering nectar, so they prefer sturdy flowers with large “landing platforms,” as well as clusters of smaller flowers that make it easy to walk from one flower to the next.
Stein Carter writes that butterflies like “many members of the plant family Compositae, where many small flowers are arranged into a flat-topped head, and other plants, such as the milkweeds, where the flowers occur in large clusters.”
Flowers from the Compositae family that attract butterflies:
- Zinnia (Asteraceae Compositae)
- Perennial Sunflower (Asteraceae Compositae)
- Goldenrod (Asteraceae Compositae)
- Gazania (Asteraceae Compositae)
- Aster (Asteraceae Compositae, but not Callistephus chinensis “Chinese Aster”)
Butterflies like other flowers as well. C. Colston Burrell in Perennial Combinations suggests some of the following flower combinations for butterfly gardens:
- White Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea); orange Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa); and purple Tennessee Coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis).
- Yellow Tall Tickseed (Coreopsis tripteris); yellow Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum); pink Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata); and white Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum).
- Purple Rose Verbena (Verbena canadensis) and red Fire Pink (Silene virginica).
- Red Knautia (Knautia macedonica) and purple Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa caucasica).
After you have chosen the location and flowers, you have two more items to add to your butterfly garden: rocks and water.
The National Wildlife Federation recommends that you add flat rocks among the flowers because butterflies like to rest in order to warm their wings and to gain a sense of orientation.
And the last step for your butterfly garden design is to add a water element. A water feature for butterflies can be very simple. They like to sit on wet sand or cement and soak in water, so you can place a shallow saucer of water and even add course sand to it if you’d like.
After you plant flowers, add rocks, and include a water feature, it’s time to sit back and welcome butterfly visitors. Depending on your area, butterflies may begin to flutter around in the spring–although you’ll probably see most of your butterflies in late summer and fall when they migrate.
Attracting butterflies to your backyard will add something special to your outdoor space.
by Shannon Mendez