How To Plant a Butterfly Garden

Do you remember watching butterflies when you were a child? They seemed to be the most beautiful, magical creatures  —  floating effortlessly and gracefully drifting among the flowers. Now that the long, cold winter is over, you can share the pleasure of watching these colorful creatures with your kids by planting a butterfly garden in your own back yard.

It doesn’t take too much effort, just turn off the TV, find a nice sunny spot in your yard, plant flowers that butterflies love, and watch them flock to your garden throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Have your child choose plants that butterflies and caterpillars like and that grow well in our area. Help them draw a simple plan for the garden, keeping in mind proper spacing between flowers. It is best to plant short flowers in the front and taller plants in back. Planting in groups rather than single flowers will attract more butterflies. Dig the garden, breaking up big clumps. Add peat moss to create loose soil for the young plants’ tender roots. Plant flowers or seeds, following instructions. After planting, water the soil. This is good for the plants, but also helps butterflies, who suck the wet soil for fluids. Add a few smooth rocks so the butterflies can rest and enjoy the sun, and perhaps a water source such as a small birdbath. Add mulch between the flowers to keep weeds away. Remember to keep your butterfly garden pesticide-free! For a complete butterfly information kit visit

Planting a butterfly garden brings simple pleasures and beauty to your yard, and is also educational for your children. Throughout the process of planning and caring for the garden, they will learn about different types of plants, caterpillars, and butterflies and their life cycles. They’ll learn about the environment impact butterflies have through pollination. You can introduce math by having your children chart the growth of plants or butterflies they see at a certain time each day. Or sneak in an art lesson. Go outside to draw plants, butterflies, and other wildlife, or write a poem or story about what they can see in the garden. Have them contemplate Nathaniel Hawthorne’s words,

 “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

If you want to take this project a step further, initiate a butterfly garden installation project at your child’s school. Last spring, students at Hillsboro Elementary School in Loudoun County, planted a garden with flowers donated by a local nursery. The garden has a pergola and benches so students can sit and observe which types of butterflies visit. They also learn by watching plants grow and taking care of the garden. With the support of their principal, their PTA, and the environmental education non-profit Newton Marasco Foundation, the kids voted on the best flowers to use, prepared the garden, planted flowers, and are responsible for garden maintenance. For more information on how to initiate a butterfly garden in your school, look for a school toolkit resource called Education on Energy and the Environment at The toolkit is designed to augment existing environmental curriculum.

Now is the perfect time of year for children to reacquaint themselves with nature. After planting your garden, you and your kids will be amazed at the number of butterflies that find their way to your yard. Sit quietly and see if they come to sit on your shoulders.

Some Plants that Attract Butterflies:

Clethra “Hummingbird” has white flowers that smell like honey. It blooms July through August and attracts Brush-footed (American Snout), Gossamer-wing (Hairstreak), and Swallowtail butterflies.

Monarda, also called Beebalm, has pink, purple or red trumpet flowers that bloom from May through September. It attracts bees, hummingbirds, and clear-wing moths as well as Brush-footed (Fritillarie), Skipper, Swallowtail, White (Checkered), and Sulphur butterflies.

Trumpet Honeysuckle, also called Woodbine and Coral Honeysuckle, has red, trumpet-shaped flowers that bloom from March through June and berries in the fall. It attracts hummingbirds, clear-wing moths, and Gossamer-wing (Spring Azure) butterflies.

Sedum, a cactus relative also called showy stonecrop, has flowers in shades of pink. It blooms once in late in late summer/fall and has many small flowers with nectar for butterflies to drink. It attracts Brush-footed (Monarch, Painted Ladies, Pearl Crescent, and Fritillaries), Gossamer-wing (Gray Hairstreak), Skipper (Silver-Spotted Skipper), White, and Sulphur butterflies.

Aster, with its daisy-like white, purple, lavender, pink, or red flowers, blooms from August through October. It attracts Brush-footed (Monarchs, Painted Ladies, Pearl Crescents, Viceroys, and Snouts), Gossamer-wing (Eastern Tailed Blues and Spring Azures), Skippers, Whites (Cabbage), and Sulphur butterflies.  

By Jeanne Brown

Newton Marasco Foundation school and community programs foster learning, appreciation and caring for our environment. To learn more about foundation programs and how to provide support, visit Jeanne Brown ([email protected]), a freelance writer and communications specialist, encourages all parents to teach their children how to protect our planet.


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