Monday, August 10, 2015

Designing and Planting Your Very Own Butterfly Garden: Part 1

An Introduction

Attracting butterflies to your yard is a great way to bring nature a little closer. There are plenty of plants you can set out to attract nectaring butterflies, but why not plant a garden that supports all stages of their life cycle?

It's easier than you might think!

Today I am beginning a blog series on how to do just that.

Variegated Fritillary caterpillar
Not only is it a rewarding experience for you, but it also makes for great hands-on science for kids, and provides vital habitat for all of your local wildlife.

For this series I'm going to focus on using NATIVE plants for your butterfly garden. While you certainly don't have to use strictly natives in order to have a successful garden, there are some good reasons to use native plants:
  • Native plants are usually hardier. Most native species are more resistant to disease, drought and pests than non-native ones, once they are established. This makes them less fussy and more economical to care for. Selecting plants that are native to your immediate area means they are even better adapted to your local conditions.
  • Native plants attract a larger variety of wildlife. Native plants and native wildlife go hand in hand. They have adapted to one another since time began. Some species of butterfly rely on a single plant family for their life cycle, and if you include one of these plants you will be doing them a great service! A variety of native plants will also attract a host of other pollinators and wildlife species as well.
  • Naturalization is a good thing! Sometimes plants can escape from our gardens and naturalize on our properties. Some popular species can turn invasive in a hurry. Even if they can benefit wildlife in the short term, they will eventually cause harm to the environment by out-competing native plants. By using native plants you will be contributing to your local biodiversity!

Of course, should you decide to  go with native plants, it's best to locate a nursery that sells them, rather than take them from the wild (which in many places is illegal, anyhow). 

There are plenty of mail order nurseries that sell native bare-root plants and seeds alike.

If you happen to live in Tennessee, there is an awesome native plant nursery located in Fairview known as Growild Inc. They have just about every native plant you can think of. Most of the plants for our park butterfly garden were obtained there. They are also incredibly helpful and informative, and can advise you which plants will do best in your locale.

Another good native plant nursery in TN is Sunlight Gardens, which also happens to mail order.

There are at least two good companies I know of where you can order native plant seed: Prairie Moon Nursery and Roundstone Native Seed Company. You can even get seed mixes custom made for your region.

The plants I will be discussing in these posts are native to the Southeast, so if you happen to live somewhere different you may need to look up lists of plants that would perform well where you are.

So now that we've covered the basics, let's begin planning your garden!


You must first decide where to build your butterfly garden. Whether you have a tiny lot in the suburbs or a sprawling country farm, you should look for the following conditions in your potential garden space:
  • SUNNY. Most plant species that butterflies adore prefer full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sunlight) or part sun (3-6 hours) for optimal growth. Butterflies themselves also prefer sunny sites. They are cold blooded, and their bodies must reach 86 degrees before they can fly. 
  • PROTECTED FROM STRONG WINDS. Butterflies prefer to nectar in areas without powerful winds blowing them around. So if possible, use a site that is sheltered from the prevailing winds.
  • PROTECTED FROM PESTICIDES. Try to avoid areas adjacent to farm fields, roadsides or neighbors that use pesticides. Pesticides are obviously bad for butterflies.
These are of course the ideal conditions, with pesticide exposure being the deal-breaker.

But what if your yard is all shade? Or the only sunny spots are your porch or your driveway? 

There are plenty of nectar and food plants that grow well in the shade, and if worst comes to worst you can always plant your garden in pots!

What about soil type? Heavy clay? Sandy? Rocky? Dry? Moist? Wet?

We'll discuss a few of these scenarios at length in later posts.

Most of the plants I will be recommending, however, do well in just about every situation (with the exception of standing water).

So that brings us to the next phase............ DESIGNING YOUR BUTTERFLY GARDEN. 

See you next time!


  1. I so enjoyed this post on a Butterfly Garden.
    Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop! I hope you’ll join us again next week!

    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

  2. How wonderful to have such a beautiful garden that attracts butterflies, too! Thanks for sharing at the Weekend Blog Hop (


  3. I just love your butterfly garden ideas!

    Thanks again for linking up with Green Thumb Thursday. I hope to see you again this week!

  4. Great ideas! I love the idea of finding a local nursery that provides native plants... I usually try to research but that's wayyyyy more difficult and it's always hard to find the plants I want in a big nursery.

    Thanks for linking up at #SustainableSundays