How To Attract Butterflies to Your Garden

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Butterflies may be common sights in your garden across the warmer months. However, there’s not always a guarantee that they will keep coming back to you. Butterflies are ultimately looking for nectar to feed on, and ideally need somewhere to lay their eggs. Therefore, planting a beautiful crop of sweet-smelling flowers is a wonderful start – but do you know how to attract butterflies to your garden beyond this?

Butterflies are attracted to safe, friendly spaces with a wide variety of flowers and sources of nectar. They are key pollinators in our gardens as they can help to move pollen from one flower to another – all the while seeking bright, open blooms to feed from.

If you’re considering setting up a garden full of gorgeous flowers to attract butterflies, the good news is that it should be relatively easy. However, it certainly pays to know what works best – and how to ensure you can keep various species coming back time and again.

What do butterflies look for in flowers?

Butterflies are similar to bees in terms of their flower tastes. Ultimately, you should focus on planting species that are native to the US to encourage visitations from local butterflies. This is largely because native butterflies already have a keen, pre-existing relationship with native flowers. They know what they like from these blooms, as well as what to look for.

You should focus on planting flowers that persist well in full sunshine and are likely to bloom all year round. Butterflies adore feeding on nectar in the full heat, meaning shaded plants are never likely to be appealing to them.

But what about colors? Butterflies are not always so fussy when it comes to flower coloring, providing it is bright and bold – but they always seem to favor reds and oranges, with yellows and pinks also pulling in a variety of species. Color preferences for butterflies can vary from species to species, interestingly!

Your average butterfly is also keen to look for flowers of a particular shape. Much like hummingbirds, butterflies enjoy feeding from trumpet-shaped blooms, providing they are relatively short. They also prefer to feed from open flowers that are easy to access.

Butterflies are, crucially, looking for flowers from which they can easily feed and even find shelter within. They may also be in search of a flat surface or two to rest on – and while you can facilitate this with a carefully placed set of stones or a rockery, why not provide them with a flowery pedestal instead?

Which types of flowers do butterflies love?

Different butterflies will, naturally, flutter towards different types of plants and flowers. However, some species always attract butterflies of all colors, sizes, and temperaments. For example, hydrangeas are wonderful for attracting butterflies – and here are a few other plants and flowers to consider when setting up your perfect wild yard.

  • Butterfly bush
  • Petunia
  • Honeysuckle
  • Sunflower
  • Lavender
  • Russian sage
  • Daisy
  • Bee balm
  • Salvia
  • Pansy
  • Marjoram
  • Joe Pye weed
  • Phlox
  • Cornflower
  • Aster
  • Sedum
  • Asclepias
  • Lantana
  • Snapdragon
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Cosmos
  • Chrysanthemum
  • False indigo
  • Floss
  • Coreopsis
  • Blazing star
  • Goldenrod
  • Hollyhock
  • Privet

However, be careful when planting some of the above flowers if you are attracting bees to your garden. While great for gaining the attention of local butterflies, some flowers may deter bees. Therefore, it’s a good idea to consider a balance, or at least to try and partition your garden appropriately.

Should I stop using chemicals in my garden?

Yes. While you may use a specific pesticide or chemical spray to get rid of garden pests elsewhere, the most abrasive of treatments won’t discern between species. If it’s likely to kill greenfly, then it will certainly pose a risk to the common butterfly.

If you must use pest repellent in your backyard (and you are not keen on rewilding your lawn completely), then do ensure to research natural remedies for the specific pests you wish to remove. Mosquitoes, for example, are simple enough to deter simply by attracting the right birds to your garden – attracting woodpeckers may reduce the population by a large extent.

Don’t fall for the label’s tricks – even if a chemical spray suggests that it’s ‘mild’ or even ‘benign’, a chemical is a chemical – it’s unnatural, and it’s putting your butterflies at risk.

Setting up a butterfly feeder

Beyond choosing the most attractive plants to appeal to butterflies, it’s worth considering setting up a butterfly feeder. Yes, butterflies will get plenty of nectar from rich, healthy plants and flowers in your garden, however, it’s always a good idea to give a helping hand.

While butterflies may not seem too fussy when it comes to the flowers they flutter to, they do have quite discerning diets (and tastes to go with them). Butterfly feeders should contain a variety of solid, yet mashed or slightly liquid foods, such as rotting or overripe fruits and sugar water. Sweet, sucrose-rich food is ideal.

A butterfly feeder can be a simple, suspended plate that you gently hang from a tree or tall plant in your backyard. Hanging flat, you can suspend a disc with three holes (equally spread apart) and string tied through to ensure it dangles evenly. 

Then, place mushy, semi-liquid food on said disc, ideally nearby the flowers you’ve planted to attract them in the first instance. Making a butterfly feeder shouldn’t take too long, but be extra careful to position it slightly in the shade – butterflies love the full sun, but a little, calming chill while they eat is always welcoming.

Semi-shading your butterfly feeder is also a good idea to ensure that they don’t get caught by coursing winds as butterflies are likely to head for somewhere with stability as well as appealing food.

Butterfly feeders are great for attracting these critters to your garden time and again, as they will know they have a reliable source of a very particular food. The average butterfly is unlikely to find rotten or spoiled fruit in the same places every single time – meaning that you are effectively establishing a tasty, nourishing routine for them.

Remember, setting up a butterfly feeder in the colder months is not always efficient. Butterflies are known to hibernate, meaning they will likely come out in a hunt for food again when spring rolls around. In fact, experts suggest butterflies don’t hibernate at all – they enter dormancy, as do other common insects.

Fill up your feeder with unwanted banana, orange, pineapple, watermelon, pear, various types of berry – go wild! A great option may be to create a soft paste that butterflies can easily eat from – and again, it’s not likely they will find frequent sources of these foods in the local environment.

Will a wild garden attract butterflies?

Yes. Letting parts of your garden grow wild will appeal immensely to local butterflies. They adore long-growing grass and plant growths to flutter between and raise young. What’s more, even the most persistent of weeds in your garden are likely to provide useful nectar to the average butterfly.

Weeds are certainly the order of the day for butterfly larvae, so ensure to cultivate nettles and strong-growing weeds in a specific patch carefully. Ultimately, butterflies are used to fast-growing wild conditions elsewhere and are more likely to head to overgrowth.

This may not appeal to all gardeners, but time and again, ‘growing out’ a garden is a great way to encourage butterfly visitation. Even if that simply means mowing the lawn a little less, you may start to notice butterfly populations accruing in greater numbers.

What is puddling?

Alongside setting up flowers, letting your garden grow a little wild – and strategically setting up a butterfly feeder full of sweet, mushy food – there’s another step to ensuring your butterflies will keep coming back to feed. Puddling is the butterfly’s way of hydrating itself – and to do this, it is going to need pools of water or even wet silt or sand to paddle around in.

Sand, silt and mud, soaked in water, are great for butterflies as they can help to hydrate them and ensure they get a fantastic balance in nutrients and minerals. Therefore, you may wish to water down a little sand or mud and create a few designated pools and puddles for your butterflies across the seasons.

This shouldn’t be too difficult to manage in wetter areas or during the colder months. However, during the spring and summer, butterflies will likely need their mineral water the most, in which case, it is time to start setting up puddles.

Conclusion

While it may seem easy enough to attract butterflies to your backyard, there’s a delicate balance at stake. They are quite fussy about the types of food they like to eat, and they are not always so keen on well-kept gardens – especially when it comes to laying eggs. Butterfly larvae are commonly hungry for weeds – so by all means, let parts of your garden grow wild!

Carefully choose bright, strong-smelling blooms and set up a butterfly feeder in the warmer months of the year. If there’s plenty of sunshine and lots of fragrant flowers, it’s unlikely that butterflies will ever want to turn you down. Once you’re welcoming these creatures to your backyard regularly, you may even want to encourage butterflies towards your hand – it’s easy enough to do!

About author
Robert has been an avid birdwatcher pretty much his entire life. Living in the suburbs he does his best to bring wild birds into his backyard. He currently has 13+ bird feeders in his yard and also raises and races homing pigeons. Robert writes part-time for Wild Yards, mostly about the subject he cares most about - birds.

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