Butterflies are pretty simple to please. Just put a few of their favorite plants in your backyard and you’ll notice them swarming around, hungry for nectar.
For a fun way to attract them, try planting a butterfly-shaped garden in your backyard. We have two plans to choose from: one a pairing of perennials, composed of host plants and nectar plants, and the other a feast of nectar-rich annuals. Choose the one right for your backyard, feel free to edit to your liking, and plant away! Before you know it, butterflies will be frequent guests at their new dining digs.
Butterfly Gardening Prep Work
- A place of honor in your lawn, in full sun, is perfect for your butterfly. To fully appreciate the effect, find a site that gives you a view from above, too.
- Measure a 10- by 10-foot square or an 18- by 10-foot rectangle. Use garden stakes to mark the corners and tie garden twine to them to outline the garden.
- Use white flour to draw the butterfly shape. For a guideline to wing placement, divide the area into quarters by sprinkling out two intersecting lines, one vertical and one horizontal. Then draw one wing in each quarter.
- Removing lawn grass sounds daunting, but it’s actually a quick and satisfying job. First, slice a continuous line about 4 to 5 inches deep all along the butterfly with an edger or spade. Then use a sharp, flat shovel or a manual or power sod cutter to slice through roots. Then roll up the sod like a carpet.
- See your butterfly? Nice work! Now let’s loosen the soil for planting. Turn it with a spade, breaking up clods, and rake it smooth. Add several inches of organic matter to the soil if you need to improve drainage in heavy soil or increase water-holding ability in dry, sandy or rocky soils.
- Edge your butterfly with a mowing strip to keep the lines clean and make lawn mowing easy.
- Ready to bring your butterfly to life? Our recommended plants in these two plans are reliable, adaptable and easy to find at garden centers. Set the pots in place, and then plant each one. Finally, sow seeds for the fast-growing annuals, according to the design.
- Now it’s just a matter of time until your fluttery friends arrive. Both designs are overflowing with nectar flowers, and dozens of species, from teeny-tiny blues and hairstreaks to magnificent monarchs and swallowtails, will be drawn to the sweet treats.
- No matter which design you choose, you’ll have a front-row seat for the whole process. Below, download either planting plan to get started, or come up with your own entirely!
Perennial Butterfly Gardening Plan
Total Size: 18 feet by 10 feet
Butterfly bush, dwarf (2)
Purple coneflower (2)
Tall Brazilian verbena (Verbena bonariensis) (2)
Autumn Joy or Autumn Fire sedum (6)
Bronze fennel (2)
Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’ (2)
Anise hyssop (3)
Purple annual verbena (6)
Pinkish-purple swamp milkweed (2)
Annual ageratum (6)
White sweet alyssum (about 12)
Carpet zinnia (about 12)
Nectar Feast Butterfly Gardening Plan
Total size: 10 feet by 10 feet
Annual ageratum (12-14)
Purple annual verbena (2)
Red annual verbena (2-4)
Purple sweet alyssum (about 12)
White sweet alyssum (about 20)
Bronze fennel (2)
Low-growing or carpet zinnias (2-4 seed packets)
Lemon Gem marigolds (4-6 seed packets)
Tangerine Gem marigolds (2 seed packets)