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How to start a butterfly garden

Monarch butterfly

Editor’s note: This story originally ran in 2023

So you want to build a butterfly garden.

And I’m sure you’ve scoured the internet to figure out the best way to do so, and maybe they’ve given you some ideas. Or maybe it was information overload and all you want is a simple guide to what is best to know.


Luckily, you’ve come to the right place to figure out how to get started. And really, it comes down to only two things: research and planning.


Before you even start planting or planning, you need to do some research about what to plant. Different butterflies like different flowers, and different flowers are better for caterpillars and growing than others.

Which means the first thing you should do is figure out what butterflies you want to attract.


For example, Monarch Butterfly larvae will only hatch on and eat milkweed plants, so if you want a butterfly garden that attracts monarchs, then you are going to need to plant milkweed.

The Farmer’s Almanac has a great list for what attracts butterflies, but if you just want the basics here are some of the best for both caterpillars and butterflies.

For Caterpillars:

For Butterflies:


Another thing to keep in mind is when you should be planting these flowers. Milkweed is best planted in the fall so that they can grow in the summer months. So make sure you’re doing your research about the plants.

Do they need shade? Sunlight? Are they best to grow in wet conditions? Dry conditions? What type of soil do they grow best in?

These small things can be the difference between having a thriving garden and dry and brown flowers that die before they can even attract the butterflies.

For other research purposes you can check out the Farmer’s Almanac about when to plant flowers, the Michigan State University flower gardening guide, HGTV for bright flowers that are also good for butterflies, or any butterfly book.



After you’ve done your research, you can now start planning the garden out.

This is the step where you buy your plants and start laying them out so you know where everything is going to go. Especially because a good butterfly garden won’t just have plants that larvae, caterpillars and butterflies, it also has places for butterflies to sun themselves and shallow water for them too.

A good way to have sunning spots for butterflies is to have flat stones for them to rest on. So you could plan a stone path in the garden with a shallow bird bath for the butterflies to rest in the water with. Maybe you’ll create spots in the garden where you can have controlled mud puddles because they bring good nutrients to butterflies once the water starts to dry.

These are things you are going to have to keep in mind, which is why planning ahead is a good idea.

Extra Tips:

Starting a butterfly garden can be as simple as planting flowers, but if you want to grow and expand it then here’s a few extra things to keep in mind.

When starting your garden you are going to want a sunny, open space that also has enough shelter from the wind and fresh water. This gives butterflies enough protection from the elements while also giving them a space to fill up on nutrients and rest when need be.

Look into getting pudding stones. These are mineral stones that can be used both for nutrients and for sunning for the butterfly. Nutrients-wise, butterflies can use pudding stones to get water and minerals that they need to survive.

Think about planting native plants. These are not only good for the environment, but may be the only thing a butterfly can and will eat.

Lastly, just remember that adult butterflies only live for a few weeks so they’re only thinking about getting nutrients and mating. Make sure your garden can not only successfully host adult butterflies, but also caterpillars and their larvae.

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