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Creating a butterfly garden

April 22, 2019

Butterfly in a tree

Photo by Thomas King from Pexels




In the words of the admired American poet Robert Frost, “Butterflies… flowers that fly and all but sing.”

When a butterfly is spotted fluttering around, it’s hard to take our eyes off them. So, this year, in honor of Earth Day 2019, we want to celebrate the butterfly and share ways to attract them to your garden!

Butterflies are one of our favorite insects (we don’t have many). If there is such a thing as a perfect bug, then the butterfly is at the top of the list. They help pollinate plants and they don’t sting or bite! And, their story of metamorphosis is inspiring to all of us who have felt like a caterpillar at some point in our lives.

There are too many butterflies native to our region to name them here. There are 175 butterfly species in North Carolina alone! It doesn’t hurt to check out a source like the NC State Extension office to find the type of butterflies you want to attract specifically.

To have a butterfly garden, you have to be prepared for some of your plants (called host plants) to be chewed on during their caterpillar stage. Once they transform into their beautiful butterfly stage, there will be no chewing because butterflies do not have mouths. This means that to attract butterflies, you have to have very specific flowers that allow them to suck out the nectar using their proboscis or straw-like tongue.

Our friends at have listed some plants that work particularly well for attracting butterflies to our Southern gardens.

Common zinnia is an easy choice for an annual and can be grown quickly from seed. Taller zinnias with yellow centers attract the most butterflies. Marigolds are another easy flower to start from seeds or transplants. They can grow anywhere from six to 36 inches. Common cosmos are another great choice that we’ve all heard of. These are also fast-growing annuals and can grow up to 8 feet tall. These three choices will bring a variety of great colors to your butterfly garden!

Have you heard of a butterfly bush? This gorgeous shrub is so perfect for butterflies, it's named after them. It can grow up to 10 feet high, or you can find compact forms that only get up to about three feet.

Lantana is a gorgeous flower that is great in heat and dry conditions. That sounds just like the South, right! These are described as butterfly heaven and are said to be the best at attracting them. The fact that they are so tough in hard conditions makes them sound like a dream, especially to the beginning or challenged gardeners among us! You can find more information on these flowers, and more, on the Southern Living website

It is important to have different plants to attract a variety of butterflies and their caterpillars. Did you know that you can also discard peelings and cores of fruit into shaded nooks to attract butterflies that enjoy eating rotting fruit? The NC State Extension office has more great tips for attracting butterflies on their website.

In addition to these great flower and bush choices, there are some other things you may want to know when creating your butterfly garden. Butterflies need water, so keep a mud puddle in a sunny location, or if that is hard to do in the hot summer months, consider filling a bucket with sand and enough water to make the sand moist.

Butterflies like the sun and use it to warm their bodies before they fly. Creating your butterfly garden in a sunny spot is ideal, but they do also need shade in the hotter months. Consider adding a few large flat rocks for butterflies to use to sunbathe.

These resources that we’ve linked have tons of great information for creating a home as welcoming to the butterflies as your home is to family and friends! Do you have any additional tips for creating a butterfly habitat? We’d love to hear them. Share them in the comments below!

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