There is both an art and a science to butterfly gardening. Some people are strong in one area – the science, say – but a bit lacking in the other. That’s okay! Live butterfly gardens are very forgiving. No matter what your strengths, by following a few basic steps and keeping a few simple rules in mind, you can rest assured that you – and your local butterfly population – will enjoy the fruits of your efforts.


Butterfly gardens do not have to be big. There are some advantages to large gardens – and I’ll get to them – but it’s hardly a requirement. It’s not a make-or-break condition. I’ve seen gardens conducive to butterflies that are nothing more than plants in pots on the corner of a patio.

If that’s what you’re dealing with – a porch or a patio and some plastic pots or terra cotta urns – consider buying yourself one or two dwarf butterfly bushes. As noted below, butterfly bushes are fantastic for attracting many different species of butterfly. They’re easy to care for and easy on the eyes, too. If you’ve only got room for one butterfly-friendly plant, make it a butterfly bush.

If you’ve got an existing garden, how about cordoning off five square feet? That will give you plenty of space to expand on the variety of plants. And you might even be able to get some of your own milkweed into the mix to attract some Monarch butterflies.

Finally, if you happen to have a lot of space – a horse pasture that’s mostly unused or a big backyard that doesn’t see a lot of action from kids, say – you could simply scatter handful after handful of wild flower seeds. Let them spring up – don’t do a whole lot of mowing or landscaping – and see what starts to visit.

There are a lot of large scale butterfly farms that do just that – maintain large plots of wildflowers and shrubs. On bright summer days, when your whole yard or field appears to be dancing with live butterflies, it can be quite a sight!


As I noted earlier, if you only have a little space, then get yourself one or more butterfly bushes. This is a perfectly valid butterfly garden!

But if you can upgrade a tiny bit, then you get expand on that. Keep a butterfly bush around, but add to it. Plenty of gardeners ask themselves what type of flowers do butterflies like? And the answer is that butterflies are attracted to plenty of different flowers and shrubs.

For example: after you’ve got your butterfly bush situated, you might want to add a rose bush. And don’t feel limited to red roses – how about yellow roses? Or white ones? Morning Glories are delicate – and I’ve often found them tricky to raise – but the violet and blue varieties (and probably the pink ones as well) can be great in a garden. Plant them near the stem of a sunflower and let them wind their way up to that golden crown.

Other good plants include: Lilac bushes and Forsythia. Both have relatively short time spans when it comes to blooming, but butterflies love them. Asters are nice and tend to hold their color later in the season if you’re looking to attract some of the end-of-summer species. I’ve recently had a lot of success with Snapdragons – and they’re great fun to play around with.

Really, anything with a little color is fair game for a hungry butterfly. The key is to keep your colors in bunches. Butterflies are drawn to fields of color – they’re aren’t getting around based on smell. So bunch your purples with your purples and your whites with your white. You want to avoid the kaleidoscope look. That will only confused your butterfly visitors.


Part of the joy of butterfly gardening lies in the process itself.. You know – buying seeds, visiting nurseries, turning the soil, getting everything planted. I like to situate a comfortable lawn chair beside the garden – not too close, not too far – so that I can kick back with some homemade ice tea and enjoy the show.

I don’t always have oceans of butterflies visiting. Some days it’s just one or two. Other days it’s like every butterfly in one hundred square miles decided to pay me a visit. Some people take pictures or keep a butterfly journal. I’ve done both, but I’ve slowly evolved to simply appreciating the garden itself. I like the effort that goes into it. I like the simple way it gives back to me. It’s just beautiful, this living vibrant colorful thing.

Don’t go into creating a live butterfly garden with a mentality of more more more! Do it with the idea that you are part of a cycle that was around before you and will continue long after you’re gone. Butterfly gardens can inspire genuine peace and wisdom. The more time I spend with them, the more I realize what a gift they are in our lives.