Watch butterflies up close in your own backyard! All you need to get started are some butterfly-friendly plants to grow in your garden or in a planter or flower pot. Once the plants start blooming, you shouldn’t have a long wait till the butterflies come.

Flowers to Plant in a Butterfly Garden

Butterflies like sun-loving flowers that produce lots of pollen and nectar (a sugary liquid). They have sense receptors on their antennae and legs that allow them to smell flowers, and they have other receptors in their feet that they use to “taste” whether the nectar is good to eat.   Butterflies don’t just follow sweet smells, though. Flowers with bright colors like red, yellow, and purple attract butterflies. And stable flowers that can support a butterfly while it eats are also important.

Growing a mix of flowers and plants like these will help attract the most variety of butterfly species to your garden:

  • asters
  • joe-pye weed
  • bee balm
  • marigolds
  • butterfly weed
  • milkweed
  • clover
  • nasturtium
  • columbine
  • parsley
  • cosmos
  • verbena
  • daisies
  • violets
  • dill
  • yarrow
  • hollyhocks
  • zinnia

Some vegetable plants and herbs give butterflies a place to lay their eggs, so in addition to parsley and dill, you might also want to grow carrots, chives, or sage. If you also want to attract moths that come out at night, plant light-colored flowers with strong scents.

Plant these in the sun, water them well, and then keep your eyes open for butterflies!

Butterfly Garden Nature Study

To get the most out your butterfly garden, watch and see what kinds of butterflies come by (a field guide with pictures will help you to identify them) and keep track of which flowers each kind spends the most time at. Use a nature journal and colored pencils to make sketches if you want to keep a record the old-fashioned way – or use the macro on your digital camera to get close-ups of the butterflies.

See if you can watch the whole butterfly lifecycle in your garden. Look for tiny eggs on the underside of leaves on “host” plants like daisies, milkweed, parsley, and clover. Later you should see caterpillars on the same plants. You might even see a chrysalis! Look for these hanging from a twig or stem, but be careful not to disturb them so metamorphosis can take place.

Adult butterflies, of course, feed on the nectar from flowers. But if there’s a mud puddle around, you’ll also see some butterflies sucking mineral nutrients that they can’t get from nectar. Observe this habit by making a permanent mud puddle: sink a small bowl into the ground, fill it with sand, and add some water with a little salt.

Even if you don’t want to plant a whole garden, you can still attract butterflies to your yard! Find out how to make a butterfly feeder using sugar water.