How to Plant a Beautiful Butterfly Garden

If you’re looking for a fun spring or summer project that will attract beautiful butterflies to your yard, consider planting a butterfly garden. As many species of butterflies are threatened by pollution, pesticides and habitat loss, not only will creating a haven for the gorgeous insects benefit them, but you’ll be rewarded by seeing these lovely creatures make themselves at home in your butterfly garden.

What to Consider Before Creating a Butterfly Garden

The real estate mantra, “location, location, location,” also applies to building your butterfly garden and should be your first consideration. Butterflies require plenty of bright sunlight as well as damp cool areas in order to thrive. Choose a large area that’s bright and sunny for butterfly-attracting plants, but is also not too far from a shaded wooded area, pond or other water source where butterflies can drink from the moist soil.

Planting Your Butterfly Garden

butterfly on flowers

When laying out your butterfly garden, keep in mind that butterflies are attracted to large patches of color, so group several of the same type of plant or flowers together. You’ll want to choose plants that grow to a variety of different heights, giving butterflies various tiers to feed from. It’s also important to note that various species of butterflies are active at different times throughout the year, so choosing colorful plants and flowers that produce nectar continuously from spring to early fall is wise.

Lastly, add a few flat rocks or decorative paving stones throughout your butterfly garden where the colorful insects can bask in the sun which helps them control their body temperature and remain active.

Maintaining the Health of Your Butterfly Garden

butterfly garden

Herbicides and pesticides are both highly toxic to all butterfly species, so it’s important to avoid using them in your butterfly garden. If you have a bug infestation that you need to eliminate, using predatory insects, insecticidal soap or removing pests by hand are all good choices.

5 Plants Perfect for a Butterfly Garden

Butterflies and native plants have co-evolved and are very much dependent on one another, so native plants are the best choice for attracting lots of the stunning insects to your butterfly garden. These five plants are all good choices to start with:

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California Narrowleaf Milkweed

A favorite of monarch butterflies, this perennial plant has a three foot tall stem, large narrow five inch leaves and a five inch flower cluster. It also tolerates clay soil well and is covered with monarch caterpillars during the summer. The alkaloids associated with this milkweed give the monarch and other butterflies that feed on it protection from predators.

Marsh Baccharis and Douglas Baccharis

 This 3 foot perennial features greenish-brown stems and green leaves, and grows very quickly in wet and moist places. Consider placing this plant towards the back of your butterfly garden because, although it attracts a wide variety of butterfly species, it’s not as attractive as some of the other plant choices on this list that would look best in the foreground.

Low Blue Blossom

 A beautiful addition to a butterfly garden, this showy evergreen California lilac has shiny green foliage and features lots of beautiful sky blue flowers. It makes an excellent evergreen ground cover that tolerates full sun to full shade, grows well in sand or clay and is drought tolerant.

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Red Thistle and Venus Thistle

 These are large plants with 1-2" bright red flowers used by all sorts of butterfly larva and swallowtail butterflies. They can grow to six feet tall and generally don’t live more than 2-3 seasons after they produce a full flower show. They prefer gravelly sand to loamy soil.

Coyote Mint

 This two-foot high perennial plant smells like a minty toothpaste and grows two feet high featuring gray-green leaves and light purple clusters of flowers in summer. It’s an absolute butterfly magnet when planted in the sun. It’s also drought tolerant, but takes garden water if given perfect drainage.

The California Native Plant Society provides a comprehensive list of plants and flowers that attract a wide variety of butterflies, so check their website for additional plant species you can add to your butterfly garden.

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Butterfly Garden Inspiration

If you’re looking for some inspiration for your butterfly garden, consider visiting the Hallberg Butterfly Garden in Sebastopol. Nestled among the apple orchards of western Sonoma County, the Hallberg Butterfly Gardens cover nine acres of overgrown vines and thickets, flowering pathways and meadows. The Gardens are open for tours from April 1 to October 31 on Fridays and Saturdays from 10am – 4pm by appointment only.

Let the Experts at SummerWinds Help

We carry a wide range of flowering plants that will attract a large variety of species to your butterfly garden. Our helpful staff will gladly offer advice and recommendations of plant varieties that will look not only look beautiful, but bloom throughout the spring, summer and fall and attract multiple varieties of butterflies to your garden. Come visit us today!

About SummerWinds Nursery: SummerWinds Garden Centers is a leading high-end retailer of garden and nursery products. Headquartered in Boise, Idaho, SummerWinds operates retail nurseries in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area, and in Silicon Valley, California, making it one of the largest independent retail nursery companies in the west. SummerWinds appeals to both the serious and casual gardeners, with a broad selection of premium gardening products and a friendly and knowledgeable staff.