How Butterfly Gardens Work

Butterfly Garden Design

Butterfly soaking up the sun
Butterfly soaking up the sun
© Pothier

With the knowledge you have gained so far about butterflies, you can easily design a sanctuary to cater to their primary needs: plants, shelter, sun and water.

The particular types of host and nectar plants necessary depends on what geographic region your garden is located in, as well as which butterflies are native to your area, but there are a few rules of thumb:

  • Plant flowers in groups, as opposed to singly.
  • Plant flowers in layers at various heights.
  • Use native plants that are already conditioned to your region, as they're more likely to be good nectar sources.
  • Plant a variety of flowers with different blooming cycles so the garden will be productive year-round.
  • Spread out host plants so as not to attract predators to the groups of eggs or larvae.
  • Keep seeds or potted plants readily available in case of plant loss.
Butterflies get many necessary nutrients from the soil by way of puddles. Butterflies get many necessary nutrients from the soil by way of puddles.
Butterflies get many necessary nutrients from the soil by way of puddles.
© Yu

As you learned on the previous page, both caterpillars and butterflies are susceptible to harsh weather conditions and predators. Thus, they need a place to go to escape these threats. Plants should be spaced so that caterpillars and butterflies can readily find shelter under their leaves from predators, intense sun or rain. Caterpillars and butterflies may also rest in leaf debris or under fallen logs, especially in cold weather, so butterfly gardening is one area of your life where messy really is better. Butterfly gardens require less upkeep than manicured lawns because the more natural they are, the more attractive they look to butterflies. Cleaning up fallen leaves and debris may actually take away some of their hiding places.

Because butterflies need warmth to function, it is essential that butterfly gardens receive lots of sun. Butterflies often bask on rocks or logs with their wings outspread to absorb the sun's warmth. It is helpful to strategically place items that can be used as resting spots so they have a place to get early morning sunlight and/or late afternoon rays.

Like all animals, butterflies require fresh water regularly. In addition, they often need to consume salts and amino acids that they don't receive from the nectar they drink. They can often get those things from soil in the garden. Letting water drip onto a spot of bare soil will create a puddle where butterflies can congregate and drink in the necessary nutrients missing from their diets.

Plants, shelter, sun and water -- pretty easy, right? It's basically an ordinary garden with just a little bit more planning. But where to begin? Read the next page for some simple tips on creating a butterfly garden of your own.