How to Attract Butterflies to your Garden

Butterflies not only make a beautiful addition to your garden and subject for your artwork, they also help pollinate plants and provide food for wild birds.

Interesting Facts

There are nearly 18,500 species of butterflies, distributed among all continents besides Antarctica.  Adult butterflies live from a week to nearly a year - depending on the species.

It is easy to tell between butterflies and moths.  Most butterflies hold their wings vertically above their bodies while at rest, while moths either hold their wings flat or folded in.

Several species of butterflies migrate for long distances.   Butterflies navigate using a time-oriented sun compass. The migrations take place over a number of generations so no single adult makes the whole trip.   The world famous North American Monarch butterfly is known for its 3,000 mile long migration but Africa's British Painted Lady undertakes a 9,000 mile trip - over twice as long!

Butterflies have appeared in art as long as 3,5000 years ago - from ancient Egypt!

Butterflies are most active between 11 A.M. and 3 P.M.   Have your camera ready during these times.

How To Attract Butterflies

Butterflies feed primarily on the nectar from flowers, and they prefer native plants.  As thus, they are attracted to bright shades of purple, white, pink, yellow, blue and red.  Planting flowers with these colors, especially those with flat tops or short flower tubes, will attract adults.  However, it is important to provide a good diversity of native host plants (besides your exotics) to support butterflies throughout their entire life cycle.

Because different species of butterflies are active from early spring to late fall, it helps to have a range of flowers that bloom at different times and will provide nectar throughout the season.  Most butterflies are active from mid to late summer.

Butterflies are active in the sun (remember their sun-compass), and many butterfly larvae and nectar plants require sunny habitats.  Try providing garden rocks and warming stones for them to sun on.

They also like to congregate at puddling areas.   Design water puddles in wet sandy areas in your garden and butterfly habitats.

Besides commonly available butterfly feeders that dispense nectar, you can also put out ripe fruit in shaded areas of the garden to attract them. 

Conserving Butterflies

Many chemical pesticides kill butterfly larvae.   Minimize your use of the following chemicals:

  • Bacillus thuringiensis
  • Diazinon
  • Malathion
  • Sevin

Instead of chemical pesticides, try using insecticidal soaps, barriers, traps and other non-chemical controls.

Avoid releasing store-bought butterflies into the environment - you may be spreading disease to the native population or they may inter-breed causing problems.

Throughout the growing season and the fall, leave dead flower heads and foliage on your plants - you might accidentally remove eggs or pupating butterflies otherwise.  Wood and leaf piles provide shelter for overwintering forms of butterflies.

Artificial nesting boxes can also help increase the population of pollinators in your area.   Mason bees like the Solitary Bee House and the bat boxes we offer provide a place for bats to raise their young.

For More Information

For a good list of butterfly host plants by state, try researching the Butterfly Site.  After determining the migration routes of your favorite butterflies, you can match up flowers on this site that bloom at opportune migration times.

Birds and Blooms lists their Top 10 Butterfly Host Plants.

Butterfly House

Butterfly Vivarium

Solitary Bee House

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