Butterfly Gardening

Sterling Heights, MI

Is anyone a crazy butterfly gardener like me?

Thumbnail by denimlady
Willis, TX(Zone 8b)

I started a small butterfly garden last year and enjoyed it so much, I hope to add to it this year. I put in mostly milkweed and butterfly bush hoping to attract monarchs and then several types of flowers.

Any tips that you have would be great to hear.

This is the garden from last year...

Thumbnail by P_Edens
Willis, TX(Zone 8b)

Here's one of the butterflies ...

Thumbnail by P_Edens
Cincinnati (Anderson, OH(Zone 6a)

Yes, I love butterfly gardening too! Lot's of fun and adds 'life' to the property.

There is lots of info about butterfly gardening on the DG Butterfly Garden forum, too.

Saint Paul, MN

I have found that butterfly gardening is more than just providing nectaring plants. As i have switched to more and more native species i am finding that more and more species are showing up (including birds) and I'm finding larvae as well which will not eat non-natives. I'm not just seeing them, I'm now producing them. It's going beyond just the milkweeds and monarchs.

Thumbnail by Petyer
Lewisville, TX(Zone 7b)

I am DEFINITELY a butterfly gardener!! I am striving to be certified one day! I am also starting a Texas Native garden that will also be attrating BF!
Last year hubby & I joined the Dallas Butterfly Society & have learned soooo much, I really enjoy that group!

Cincinnati (Anderson, OH(Zone 6a)

Yes, I am addicted to butterfly gardening and found lots of good information on the 'Butterfly and Hummingbird Gardening Forum' here and on GW. Many many details on what are the best milkweeds for the area, other native host plants, the best nectar plants to have something blooming thru the season, etc., and I highly recommend checking into that.

Also the Massachusetts Butterfly Club has a great Butterfly Website and NABA too. http://www.naba.org/chapters/nabambc/.

And I too belong to a couple of local and state butterfly groups.

And I just want to mention that my newest favorite Butterfly Nectar Plant (especially for the Monarchs) is Liatris Ligulistylus. Available from Prairie Moon nursery in little plantlings or on E-bay.
If you are putting together a butterfly garden, try this one for sure (except maybe in TX because of the seasonal timing)! It is a real winner for us (and we have loads of nectar especially for butterflies!)

Good luck! t.

Lewisville, TX(Zone 7b)

I found a Black ST caterpillar on my dill today & then saw the "parent" flitting about later on! I covered the cat with netting as it's my first one & I am SO HAPPY!!!!!!!!!

Millington, TN

Hi, I'm new on here.......I built my first Butterfly garden last summer.....Most of my plants died last year due to the drought we had.....My purple coneflowers survived.......this year i totally re did the bed.......I wish I had some pics ......My favorite things are the coneflowers and the paprika yarrow......I was thinking about adding a wooden butterfly box my daughter built but am having trouble keeping the wasp out....Any advice is appreciated......

Houma, LA

Last year was my first year for butterfly gardening. I got hooked with the whole Monarch expierence. Now I have planted for the gulf fritallary and black swallowtail,
I hope they will come. My friends laugh at me constantly because I will point out butterflies to them on fishing trips and beer runs. I have transformed my whole(small) backyard in to a butterfly garden. I am giving away milkweed to all my neighbors. so yes I am pretty Crazy.

Camp Hill, PA

Butterflies do not use butterfly boxes. It's a gimmick, or a fraud if being seriously marketed as a home for butterflies!

It was started as a whimsical garden ornament!
Everyone I know who had one said it was colonized by bees, mostly wasps and they got rid of it.

Seeing as how your daughter made it, and it has sentimental value, my advice is to either drill a bigger hole and make it a bird house, or seal it completely and use it as an garden ornament, or get rid of it all together.

Good luck with your first butterfly garden!

Lewisville, TX(Zone 7b)

I am having great success with my garden as the season goes on. The only downfall is the dang grasshoppers!!! Being pesticide free I can't do a thing to get rid of them! hahaha.
I found another Swallowtail "cat" but something got to it before it could go into a chrysalis. I think the first cat is dead in it's crysalis as it's never hatched & it's all brown now. :0(

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

I think swallowtail chrysalis are supposed to be brown. I overwintered one in my storage closet on the back porch last winter and one day it came crawling out as a butterfly! I also garden for wildlife, plant only natives, had the garden certified a monarch waystation, though I plant for as many different species as possible. This year I am trying to learn more about the pollinators, though the honey bees absolutely LOVED the mountain mint in the driveway. We pulled up chairs to watch them for days. It was wonderful. Nice to "meet" you all fellow crazy bug lovers. :)

Thumbnail by AmandaEsq
Halethorpe, MD

I have a very small space to work with, the backyard of a rowhouse, and I've dug all of it up to plant for butterflies, and hopefully hummingbirds. At first I didn't "get" the whole native plant thing, but I've recently learned more and think it's very important. I'm just not sure what to plant, or not plant. It's also important to me that my garden is pleasing to my eye. I had some agastache fail here in Baltimore MD, so I replaced them with monarda didyma coral reef, which settled in but hasn't bloomed yet. I was thinking of planting heuchera in the front with the holly. Are they native? Not native? Is it really important to avoid cultivars? For example, purple coneflower is large for my bed; would it be a good thing to plant one of the new, smaller types?
I'm looking for resources to learn more and suggestions about plantings for nectar and for host plants. Thanks!

Northern, NJ(Zone 6b)

I think cultivars are tricky, some are just natural crosses and ok at attracting butterflies.
Mostly I try to stay away from cultivars especially any double flowers and stick to species with better success.
I have a really pretty light lavender aster called "Fanny" I bought as an end of season impulse filler (you can never have enough asters for end of season nectar IMO) that is useless because the flowers are so full there is no center.

I also have to manage a small tight area in the front of the house.
Tall species aster can all be cut back a few times early in the season ( up to July 15 for me) and bloom at 2' instead of 6').
I switched from tall Switch grass to Little bluestem and use plants like Penstemon digitalis that bloom earlier and form tight basal rosettes
in between to support the grass and have fabulous fall color.
The grass is a host plant for skippers who mob the asters and goldenrods in the fall for nectar.
Anything you can do with traditional garden design can be done with natives, it's just harder to find out what plants to use.
I suggest the USDA site for maps of what's native and where it is native. Make sure you click on the box under the map that says
"View Native Status". Whatever areas turn grey are non native, if it stays blue it's native.
That site is a good start but flawed.
A good native plant book for your area will help and finding your native plant society is a good source.

There are native Heucheras for your area.
Heuchera villosa is one, it is a southern native and a beautiful fall bloomer.

Another thing to remember is not to be too tidy until as late in the spring as possible. Lots of over wintering goes on in the debris and
on old flower stalks.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

I went through an intense period developing a native plant reading garden at a local library and collected a lot of resources. I hope some of these links help you to learn about/find native plants for your region:


Sempervirens gives good advice also - let us know how your plans progress.


Cincinnati (Anderson, OH(Zone 6a)

I try to plant for my butterflies with natives as much as possible and have found some pretty good success growing from seed.

And if you happen to miss your local Native Plant Society sale, Prairie Moon Native Plant Nursery & Seeds offers a small selection of plant plugs by mail order at reasonable prices that can get your garden growing on an easier and faster track than growing from seed. Everwilde offers a wide range of native seeds.

Although these two suppliers are not specific to Maryland, they service a wide area and they have been very helpful to me here in Ohio. Prairie Moon in particular offers books and guides for sale, and it also has a nifty interactive map link on each seed listing that shows if that plant is considered native to particular locations. Both Everwilde and Prairie Moon are happy to answer questions.

Prairie Moon Seeds and Plants: http://www.prairiemoon.com/seeds/

Everwilde Farms http://www.everwilde.com/store/All-wildflower-seeds-01.html

I have also found my area's Dave's Garden members' 'Round-up' (gathering) in the springtime a great opportunity to find out more information about local native plant sources and also many local DG members are happy to share hard to find native plants and seeds and advice. You can find out more about your local Round-up on your area's Forum.

And mls--gardengirl, you might want to peruse this link that lists many natives for the DC area that Butterflies like: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/gsgp/infosheets/butterfliesandmoths.pdf

A quick look thru reminds me that native delphinium (larkspur) and also violets might be pretty in your small garden especially for springtime. And don't forget butterflies like blossoms on shrubs too, and there are several suggested on the list that might work in a small garden.

Good luck! t.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

I found this link recently: it's an awesome collection of natives and prices (and shipping!) are very reasonable too.


How about this one: new to me but looks spectacular. :)


This message was edited Oct 14, 2011 11:21 AM

Cincinnati (Anderson, OH(Zone 6a)

Yes, I have ordered from both Easywildflowers and Wildseed Farms and they have quite a nice range of products and good service (for me) too.

Ten years ago when I started planting natives you could hardly find a supplier, now they seem to be readily available.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

The plantings do pay off:

A sleepy orange sulfur emerged from this chrysalis today. I've been releasing them for weeks. They were deposited as eggs first on the Cassia alata I planted just for them.

Thumbnail by AmandaEsq
Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

How locally would you recommend sourcing your native plants/seeds, to serve your local populations of fauna?

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

I hate to say it doesn't matter, but servicing local fauna (assuming birds, pollinators, and any other wildlife) is the reason I garden and why I use "natives." I believe on another thread or two we debated the merits of plant community genetics. If you're trying to attract wildlife, and a particular species is in your range, I think it's okay to plant any plant that is native in it's range. For instance the Cassia alata is not native to NC, but there is the C. marylandica or S. marilandica which is native to the east coast/mid atlantic. If I had access to the native senna I would have preferred that, but what I had still attracted sulfur(s) to lay eggs.

Same with nectar plants.

I also believe native plants are better adapted to conditions found in my region/zone, however, I wouldn't plant an alpine species in my backyard just because it's native to NC.

I think it's imperative to be selective about sourcing plants when actual restoration is the objective because certain plants do have certain symbiotic relationships in plant communities. Gosh this is a deep subject and purists could argue over the topic of native plants, but it doesn't seem right to have dissent in a garden. ;)

Do you have specific thoughts on whether it's important to source local plants to attract fauna?

Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

I think it is extremely important - and this is lively debate, not warfare. Let's leave that to the garden pathogens and predators.

It is the local demand that will eventually drive the local production. If you (and like brethren) will always default to elsewhere (TX? WI?), then where's the expectation that there will ever be NC growers of NC natives? The same situation used to exist in KY, but there are now many growers. I like to think that is because the market for these plants and their nativity helped drive that change. If one is patronizing the highest quality of plant growers that actually specify the provenance of their product, then one might find your provenance non-locally. I think I can count those vendors on a couple sets of fingers and toes, though.

I am also a realist, and know that the perfect can be the enemy of the good. But - one's reach should always try to exceed one's grasp.

That said, I also believe that there may be more problems than just some "pollution" of the local genetics. What happens when the plants brought in from elsewhere are out of sync with local fauna's life cycle? What if the "alien" genetics act more like the above-mentioned cultivared plants? I know (from woody plants) that there can be more than a month spread in the starting of bloom on an individual species (Arrowwood Viburnum), depending on where over its native range it hails from.

This can go on, but I think you see where I'm coming from. Fence-straddling isn't usually the best place to be - unless there's an angry bull in both fields. Profess and strive for your position, even if sometimes you cannot attain it. That earns respect from anyone's camp.

melbourne, Australia

Butterflies are some of the most beautiful and interesting creatures on Earth. A butterfly garden is an easy way to see more butterflies. Nectar-producing plants will attract butterflies to your garden. Many nectar-producing plants are native species which require little attention, as they are naturally adapted to the region in which they live. Butterflies are attracted to flowers with strong scents and bright colors where they drink sweet, energy-rich nectar. Select plants that are native to your area and they will attract local butterflies. Thanks.

Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

Yeah, and there returning earlier this year,seeing lots of frittilaries and red admirals.

Cincinnati (Anderson, OH(Zone 6a)

Hi, V V,

Yes, of course your thoughts about local sources are so valid.

But if I waited to find local sources for many of my seeds/plants (that are local natives) I would be waiting forever. I'd have to wait until a certain saturday when the local society decided to have a sale. I can't say that many of our suburban nurseries here in our Cincy suburb do much with natives...I know across town (45 minutes-hour away) there are a couple of suppliers though.

I like what you say about 'good' and 'perfect' especially..


Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

The key is - and I'm certain you implicitly understand this - to strive for excellence. That includes repeatedly and incessantly mentioning it every time you buy plants, no matter who from. When we settle for lower common denominator/standards, it should be no surprise that that is all we get.

I think the change in nursery production of woody plants in KY came in no small part due to continual complaining from those of us who really wanted more choice than just pin oaks and pears. It didn't happen overnight, but since I started buying in the mid 1980s, it has changed by light years. Vendors understand when customers vote with their feet. No one has to be rude about it - just firm and vigilant.

I guess it is because I have been active in my career with so many professional organizations and public efforts, that I just don't see why it isn't second nature to everyone.

All the critters will thank those that go to these lengths to do right by them. Even if it is collecting a handful of seed from ahead of the mowers, or snatching a few plants before the construction bulldozers scrape them away (I'm leading an effort to do that this week, in fact) - every little bit is better than nothing.

On a whole 'nother subject...didn't I send you some Red Buckeye seed once upon a time? Did those "become fruitful and multipy"?

I sowed a bunch last fall, and have nearly 100% germination.

Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

Well when I decicided to try a butterfly garden I thought I would start witha few things.Found a few things that suprised me like wild black mustard had buckeye cats when I really put them there to draw cabbage Bf away from the greens.The buckeye BF's also had snapdragons that have since died.Put a few nettles in and now I have lots of red admirals

The one thing that has me puzzled is where are all the silver spotted skippers coming from.I've looked through all the websites and as near as I can guess, is the few big locust trees in the neighborhood.,only I have never seen any skipper cats on any of them.

That all started with a few zinnias that brought hungry BF's all through spring, summer, and fall. I get ST's of all kinds,don't get many monarchs even with all kinds of milkweed. Thank you everyone here for a delightful and wonderful conversation!!!

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Juhur7 - it is a wonderful pursuit.

If you like this conversation, try this one too in the hummingbird and butterfly forum:


It's very active and we regularly post photos of butterflies and related items. Informative and easy on the eyes.


Stirling, NJ(Zone 6a)

Hey y'all, has anyone tried adding a butterfly puddle? I am looking for a receipe for butterfly pudding, I understnd they need salts etc. I to plant as native as possible and love seeing Gods flying gems in my garden.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Hey there - we have been talking about this on the "daily pictures" thread.


Stirling, NJ(Zone 6a)

yes, I heard that but I do not see any receipes for a puddle of electrolites and minerals. We have so many Red Admirals now and not much to eat here in NJ and I want to know what to do to help them.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

That I'm not sure of - you might post your question on our thread - there are some very knowledgeable people who check in regularly.


Glen Ellyn, IL(Zone 5a)

I had a cloud of Red Admirals this Easter. I planted some wild milkweed and bought tropical milkweed. Unfortunately not a lot of butterflies in this heat and dry weather.

Unfortunately the tropical milkweed just brought yellow aphids.

I did buy some monarch caterpillars at our local bird store. But they didn't stick around like I hoped. I have plenty for the adults to eat. Rose of Sharon, coneflowers, and phlox.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Red - I've been following a thread called "daily pictures" in the hummingbird and butterfly gardening forum. You might want to jump in and see what's going on there. It's helpful to me to get reports from people around the country (including IL!) so we know what areas are seeing butterflies or not.

About the aphids - they're inevitable with all milkweeds. Some people try to hose them off with a water spray. You can clean them off with a paper towel. I figured that milkweeds have had aphids since the beginning of time, so they will work themselves out.

If you buy cats you could bring them in and host them in a mesh container till they form their chrysalis and come out as a butterfly! I don't know the statistics, but someone on the daily pictures thread could tell you the odds of a monarch surviving from cat stage to butterfly stage is pretty slim out there in the wild. That's why so many people are bringing them into protected enclosures - the monarch population has been dwindling due to various factors over the last 15 or 20 years, and the more you save, the more that will come back next year!

Glad you have nectar plants. Don't give up on the host plants. Keep an eye out for tiny holes in the leaves of your MW. Could be a tell-tale sign that you have a small contingent of caterpillars. :)

Good luck!

Cincinnati (Anderson, OH(Zone 6a)

Hi, again, lep lovers,

I just read thru this thread again--although too late in the season I'd like to post a Recipe for Butterfly Bait. This is from a DG butterfly gardener in Texas:


Will let you in on a secret we use down here - we use Butterfly Bait to attract the fruit feasters. We find a large variety of butterflies eating at bait stations - Blomfield Beauty, Gray Cracker, Guatemalan Cracker, an assortment of Leafwings, Question Marks, Hackberrys, Emperors, Blue Waves, Red Rims, Band Cell Sisters, Red Admirals, Banners, Malachites, Satyrs...oh, I can't remember them all...but the stuff really pulls them in.

The mix is simple: Mash a few pounds of ripe bananas, a pound of brown sugar and 1 bottle of Guiness Stout beer. Just put everything in a blender and mix it up. Use it fresh or let it ferment in an old milk jug for several weeks to a year! I keep a gallon of it in my south Texas garage (temperature warm up in there!) and open the lid every couple of days or to vent it so it won't explode. As I use it I mix up a new batch and add it to the jug.

I have several pieces of firewood (with bark) hanging from my trees. I used a saw to cut out some grooves into it so the butt-bait will stay put and run off. Many of the folks out at the butterfly gardens just pour it on old tree stumps or fence posts.

Another lepodopterist adds a little urine to his concoction (or just uses straight urine) for excellent results. I think that would provide the 'salts' about with you speak!

There are many other recipes for the mixture--most include ripe banana (or other rotten fruit), some sugar, some kind of beer or rum and then some manure-like material for an extra dose of 'salts'. Best to experiment and see what works best with your butterflies.

Madison, WI

I find banana and mangoes are best, the riper the better.
But does anyone know how to keep resident possums (and possibly raccoons) from robbing the feeder?

Post a Reply to this Thread

Please or sign up to post.