How to Attract Butterflies

butterfly on pink flowers

Watching butterflies dance around colorful flowers in the garden makes everything come to life a little bit more. There’s something magical about the way they flutter to and fro, choosing each landing spot carefully. But the most special thing about butterflies is their lifecycle—the way they transform from a caterpillar to a butterfly in a matter of weeks.

It’s simple to attract butterflies to your garden and keep them coming back. You just have to create a butterfly-friendly environment. You can do so by:

  • Growing a combination of host plants for the caterpillars and nectar plants for the adults
  • Planting brightly colored flowers
  • Growing regional plants rather than foreign or invasive species
  • Planting flowers that bloom rotationally so that when one plant finishes blooming another one starts
  • Refusing to use pesticides and insecticides, which can make the butterflies sick or kill them
  • Creating puddling spots that provide the butterflies with water

Make the Butterflies Feel At Home

Did you know that there are over 700 species of butterflies in North America? We’re used to seeing common species like monarchs, but you can attract many different types of butterflies by providing a few basic resources: sunny open spaces, shelter, fresh water, nectar, and a place to lay their eggs.

By planting an assortment of flowers, herbs, grass, vines, and trees, your garden will become the perfect place for butterfly eggs, caterpillars, and adults. Plus, you’ll be doing your flowers a favor by attracting insects to pollinate them.

You may already have some common, butterfly-friendly flowers like lilacs and marigolds in your garden, but if you’re looking to add more, remember that butterflies are drawn to bright colors like red, yellow, orange, pink, and purple.

bitterflies landing on flowers

Grow Host Plants

Host plants give the butterflies a place to lay their eggs and provide caterpillars with food once they hatch. Though there are a general group of recommended host plants for North American species, each butterfly has a special preference.

host plants to attract butterflies

Grow Nectar Plants

Adult butterflies aren’t as picky as caterpillars about their diets. They’ll drink nectar from many different types of plants, and sometimes even prefer fruit. However, they do still have favorite flowers, trees, and shrubs if they can find them.

butterfly species favorite nectar plants

How to Make a Butterfly Feeder

Most species enjoy and thrive on sweet nectar, but some species like the Mourning Cloak and Red Admiral also need fruit in their diet. The fruit provides them with carbohydrates and minerals.

You can supplement butterflies nectar diets, and provide them with a central location to gather in your garden by putting out a plate of overripe fruit or creating a butterfly feeder. To create a butterfly feeder, all you need is a jar, string, and a sponge. See how to make one below.

hot to make a butterfly feeder instructions

How to Make a Butterfly Puddling Spot

Nectar is a butterfly’s primary source of food, but they still need water to hydrate and get the right amount of salts and minerals. Because butterflies are so small, they can’t land on large bodies of water like birds might. Instead, they have a puddling ritual where they land on a muddy or sandy patch and drink water that has collected there like pictured below.

white spotted butterflies drinking water

You can create a puddling spot to encourage butterflies to gather like this by filling a shallow container with dirt (avoid potting soil or dirt with fertilizers) or sand, and keeping it moist. Add rocks or other flat, solid surfaces to make it easier for butterflies to land and drink water.

When To Expect The Butterflies

Migration patterns for each species of butterfly is different. Some go only in one direction following food. Others make a two-way migration, traveling south in the fall and north in the spring. The most is known about monarch migration, which is the longest known insect migration on Earth! Around August, monarchs begin to fly south from Canada and the northern part of America, looking for warm winters in places like California, Texas, and Mexico. This means that if it’s warm in your area, it’s probably butterfly season. Explore the map below, inspired by Monarch Watch, to learn more about monarch migration patterns.”


Whether you want to create a complete butterfly garden with a puddling spot and feeder, or simply want to add new plants to your garden, these tips, and a warm environment, will attract butterflies in no time.




Image Sources:

Make Butterflies Feel at Home (right): CC Image courtesy of Brian Robert Marshall on Wikimedia Commons

Black Swallowtail: CC Image courtesy of Tony Hisgett on Wikimedia Commons

Cabbage White: CC Image courtesy of Vera Buhl on Wikimedia Commons

Monarch: CC Image courtesy of akrontrekker on Flickr

Pygmy Blue: CC Image courtesy of Ranger Robb on Flickr

Zebra Swallowtail: CC Image courtesy of Megan McCarty on Wikimedia Commons

Dogface: CC Image courtesy of Ranger Robb on Flickr

Checkered White: CC Image courtesy of Megan McCarty on Wikimedia Commons

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail: CC Image courtesy of James St. John on Flickr

Spring Azure: CC Image courtesy of Ranger Robb on Flickr

Tailed Blue: Spring Azure: CC Image courtesy of Ranger Robb on Flickr

Viceroy: CC Image courtesy of PiccoloNamek on Wikimedia Commons

Butterfly puddling spot: CC Image courtesy of chinmayisk on Flickr (image was cropped)

Migration Map: modifief from the original at