How to Plant a Butterfly Garden


My daughter loves butterflies, flowers and gardening, and I thought it would be perfect to combine all of those interests this year and plant a butterfly garden.

For a brief time she was really into “Nature Cat” on PBS, and they happened to do an episode about why butterflies need our help, so it was a perfect topic to talk about and she already knew a lot of what we needed.

This explains why her shopping list included milkweed and wildflowers.

We headed to the local botanical garden to check out its butterfly house, but there weren’t any butterflies and little growing this time of year. If you’re planning a butterfly garden later in the season, butterfly houses can be a great source of ideas for plants butterflies love that also grow well where you live.

Shopping for Plants for a Butterfly Garden Tips for planting a butterfly garden

We went to a local garden center to select our plants because their plants are better, the selection is better and the plants aren’t treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, which can actually kill pollinators (though Lowe’s has pledged to stop selling such plants, they might not be gone until 2019).

We had a list of some flowers we definitely wanted, such as milkweed and butterfly bush. But we also just wandered around and picked up colorful flowers we liked and thought butterflies (and bees) would like, too.

We ended up with milkweed, zinnia and bee balm seed, as well as geraniums, snap dragons, lantana, lobelia, African daisy and fuschias (which will go in the fairy garden because they prefer more shade). And a couple varieties of lavendar, which I’m not sure what to do with.

It’s really fun to go a little overboard on plants. You can always tuck them in somewhere!

How to Plant a Butterfly Garden adding butterfly art to garden

We decided — before we bought so many plants! — that our butterfly garden was going to go in a half barrel next to our vegetable plot. It’s one of the rare places in our yard that gets full sun, and it’s accessible but not in the way.

Butterflies, by the way, need a sunny spot, protected from the wind, and access to water.

I filled the barrel with potting soil and we quickly realized the butterfly bush would take up the whole pot. We happen to have a spot nearby where a tree died last year where we might plant it.

The girl chose the African daisy, lantana, geranium and lobelia to go in the pot.

We sprinkled in some milkweed and bee balm seeds, because they’re supposed to be OK before the last frost date (which is good, because it’s cold again). The zinnias will have to wait, and may get started indoors.

We added a butterfly friend and watered everything well.

In time we will pot some of the other plants and put them nearby, and we’ll add a shallow tray of water when it warms up and there are butterflies about.

I can’t wait to see if this really helps us attract butterflies.

Have you ever planted a butterfly garden? I’d love to hear about your experience!

More Resources for Learning About Butterflies butterfly unit study

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