Plant a butterfly garden

Are you ready to get your hands dirty? Are you ready to teach your children about the life cycle of a butterfly? I promise if you follow these tips you will have an amazing, educational butterfly season!

First, you will need butterfly host plants, butterfly nectar plants, a shovel and a place to plant. You can plant your flowers in containers or in a flower garden. Butterfly host plants are important when you create your butterfly garden because they provide food for your caterpillars. Tiny caterpillars can’t travel far so their Mommy will lay their eggs only on the plant the caterpillars can eat.

It is very important to position host and nectar plants near one another to encourage adults to stay in your garden. Remember, the host plants serve a purpose. Don’t be upset when you have caterpillars eating your leaves and flowers.

When planting your butterfly buffet try to pick a spot with little wind but lots of sun. When the caterpillar emerges as the adult butterfly it has to “dry its wings” and wind makes it difficult for the butterfly to hold on during this process.

The newly hatched butterfly will hang from its chrysalis until its wings are dry. This is also your opportunity to snap some pictures. Your hatchling can not fly at this point. Butterflies rarely take flight when temperatures are below 60 degrees.

After emerging, butterflies look for sources of nectar. Along with the nectar source, butterflies love to “puddle”. Puddling is how your butterfly gets moisture and minerals they need to survive. You can create a puddling area by placing a small lid/shallow container in the ground and adding sand, dirt, and water.

I have even added a touch of Gatorade to help the male butterfly get the extra sodium it needs during mating season. Certain butterflies also love fruit. Throw a couple of grapes, ripe bananas and orange pieces in this area.

When deciding what to plant in your butterfly garden, take some time to learn more about the benefits of native plants. By choosing to include native plants in your garden you’ll make things easier on you and the environment. Native plants need less upkeep and maintenance from you. They require less water and they are hardy.

Life cycle of butterflies:

1. Adult lays eggs on host plant
2. Tiny caterpillars hatch from the eggs
3. Caterpillar molts (sheds its skin)
4. After final molt caterpillar looks for twig or leaf to attach itself
5. Forms an outer shell called a pupa or chrysalis
6. Makes transformation from caterpillar to butterfly
7. Butterfly emerges (Some butterflies will hibernate over winter)

Butterfly Nectar Sources:

Black-eyed Susan
Blazing Stars
Milkweed/Butterfly weed    Butterfly Bush

List of common butterflies and their host plants:

Anise Swallowtail- Sweet Fennel, Lomaium, Citrus
Black Swallowtail- Dill, Parsley, Fennel, Carrot, Queen Anne’s Lace
Buckeye, plantains, snapdragons,
Cabbage White- plants from the mustard family, cabbage family
Checkered skipper- Mallow, hollyhock
Checkered white- Tumble mustard
Common hairstreak- mallow family, hollyhock
American and Painted lady – Thistle, hollyhock, sunflower
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail- sycamore, willow
Monarch- milkweed, butterfly weed
Mouring cloak- willow, aspen, elm
Question Mark- nettle, elm, hops, fasle nettles
Red Admiral- nettle, false nettle, pellitory
Red Spotted Purple- Wild Cherry, Oak, Poplar, Willow
Spicebush Swallowtail – Spice bush, sassafras
Variegated fritillary- Various, including pansy
Viceroy Butterfly – Willow, Poplar, apple
Western tiger swallowtail – Willow, Cottonwood, chokecherry
Zebra Swallowtail- Paw paw tree
Cabbage White- Broccoli, cabbage


  1. Joey says

    Wow Connie what amazing information and a great learning tool for the young kids. Also fun for us grown-ups. Your directions and photos are outstanding, as always!
    Terrific article!
    PS: Loved seeing you in the Shutterfly video!!

  2. Earl J says

    I’m so impressed with the thoroughness and the resulting educational value of this beautiful blog. Your labor of love shows how much hard work had to go into its production. Thanks, Connie.

  3. BarbaraJ says

    Well my friend, you know how I love butterflies and you have a wonderful idea for teaching kids and us adults also. I just love not only the photos but the article is just fantastic. I get them when they migrate and you raise them! WooHoo!

  4. says

    What a great article. It would be something my son would read over and over. Since we moved away from the river area in Sacramento, I miss being able to work with good soil. All rocks here. But we do get some butterflies to my rosemary and lavander.

  5. says

    I forgot to tell you. After your butterfly hatches and you look for that perfect flower to put it on to eat (and you to snap your pictures) Check the flower and steam for spiders or any other butterfly eating insects.

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