Annual and Perennial Butterfly Garden Designs

Updated: Mar. 21, 2024

For a fun idea, plant flowers that attract butterflies in a butterfly-shaped garden bed! We’ve got two plans for butterfly garden designs.

Butterflies are pretty simple to please. Just put a few of their favorite flowers and host 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 butterfly garden designs to choose from: one with perennials, including host plants, and the other a feast of nectar-rich annuals. Psst—this is the difference between annuals and perennials. Choose one of these butterfly garden designs for your backyard, feel free to edit to your liking, and plant away! Before you know it, butterflies will be frequent guests.

butterfly gardeningStacy Tornio
Stacy Tornio designed this small butterfly-shaped bed to fit her own backyard.

How to Start a Butterfly Garden

  • A place of honor in your lawn, in full sun, is perfect for your butterfly garden. 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.
swallowtail and marigoldsCourtesy Flora Marlatt
Tiger swallowtail butterfly and marigold flowers

Plant Flowers for Butterflies

  • Ready to bring your garden to life? Our recommended plants and seeds in these two plans are reliable, adaptable and easy to find online or at garden centers. Set the pots in place, and then plant each one. Finally, direct 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 butterfly garden 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 the planting plans to get started, or come up with your own design entirely!

Check out blooming bushes that attract butterflies.

butterfly garden design
Perennial Butterfly Garden Plan

Perennial Butterfly Garden Design Plan

Total Size: 18 feet by 10 feet
Planting Key:
1. Butterfly bush, dwarf (2 plants)
2. Purple coneflower (2 plants)
3. Tall Brazilian verbena (Verbena bonariensis) (2 plants)
4. Autumn Joy or Autumn Fire sedum (6 plants)
5. Bronze fennel (2 plants)
6. Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’ (2 plants)
7. Broccoli (6 plants)
8. Oregano (2 plants)
9. Anise hyssop (3 plants)
10. Lantana (2 plants)
11. Purple annual verbena (6 plants)
12. Pinkish-purple swamp milkweed (2 plants)
13. Annual ageratum (6 plants)
14. White sweet alyssum (about 12 plants)
15. Carpet zinnia (about 12 plants)

Download the perennial garden plan

butterfly garden design
Annual Butterfly Garden Plan

Annual Butterfly Garden Design Plan

Total size: 10 feet by 10 feet
Planting Key:
1. Annual ageratum (12 to 14 plants)
2. Purple annual verbena (2 plants)
3. Red annual verbena (2 to 4 plants)
4. Purple sweet alyssum (about 12 plants)
5. White sweet alyssum (about 20 plants)
6. Parsley (4 plants)
7. Bronze fennel (2 plants)
8. Low-growing or carpet zinnias (2 to 4 seed packets)
9. Lemon Gem marigolds (4 to 6 seed packets)
10. Tangerine Gem marigolds (2 seed packets)

Download the annual nectar garden plan