Make Your Own Butterfly Garden

Episode 1 of Magic Adventures features the activity of making your own butterfly garden.  Use this guide for tips on how to plan this activity with your family.  Get ready to make some butterflies very happy!

Step By Step

Using a field guide will help you identify the butterflies in your local area.
  • 1

    Research Butterflies in Your Area

    Before you buy plants to feed your butterflies, you'll need to know which types of butterflies live in your area. A little research on the internet or at your local library will tell you the species of butterflies you can expect to find, but you'll need to narrow that list down a bit more. Spend some time outside to see which species of butterflies are spending time around your house. A field guide can will be very helpful in identifying the species you see.

Choose a variety of flower types.
Plant different flower types so that you will have blooms in spring, summer and fall.
Be sure to get plants that caterpillars enjoy to support your butterfly nursery.
  • 2

    Identify the Plants for Your Garden

    Once you know the species of butterflies in your area, you'll need to know how to feed them. Keep in mind that you need plants to feed adult butterflies, but you'll also need plants to support a butterfly nursery. A little research will help you narrow down the types of plants that are best for the species in your area, but a general rule of thumb is that butterflies are attracted to different types of nectar and even different colors of plants. By planting a variety of flowering plants, you'll have the best chance at attracting multiple species of butterflies. Plant your flowers in groups so that butterflies can see blocks of color. This will give them the best chance of finding something they like in your garden. See the "More Help" section below for a guide to the best types of plants for each species of butterfly.

Taller plants and planters on the outside of your garden can provide protection from the wind.
Larger planters offer great protection from the elements.
Leaning flat rocks together in the center of your garden will create a sunning spot for your butterflies.
  • 3

    Plan a Shelter for Your Butterflies

    Besides the flowering plants needed to feed your butterflies, you will also want taller plants and bushes to provide a shelter from the elements. You can also use planters to help create a shelter. Locate these taller plants in a ring around the outer edge of your garden. They will provide shade in sunny weather and a break from the wind in bad weather. Your butterflies won't want to fight the wind to feed, so the outer shelter ring will make your garden a safe place to stop for a bite.
    Remember that butterflies are ectothermic so they can't regulate their own body temperature. Leave the center of your garden open as a sunning area. Your butterflies will be able to move between the sunning area and the shade areas to maintain their temperature. You can build a sunning structure for your butterflies by leaning flat rocks together to create a tepee of sorts. The butterflies will sit on the rocks to sun themselves and they will crawl into the open areas of your structure to get shade or protection from the elements.

Select a smaller area for your garden so that your project can be completed over a weekend.
  • 4

    Select an Area for Your Garden

    Now that you have the flowering plants, bushes, planters and rocks that you will need identified, pick a spot for your garden. Keep the area small enough to be able to complete your garden over a couple days. You can always enlarge the garden later. Measure the space and make a diagram showing which plants will be locate in each area. This will help you finalize the number of plants needed so you can go shopping.

Ladybugs and other non-chemical methods can be used to control pests in your garden.  Remember that pesticides are deadly to butterflies and must not be used.  Talk to your local nursery for help with integrated pest managment.
  • 5

    Use Organic Pest Control

    Your garden will be susceptible to pests but keep in mind that PESTICIDES CAN NOT BE USED! Butterflies are very susceptible to these chemicals so you will need to use integrated pest management techniques. Talk to your local nursery about the pests you see to get a non-chemical method to treat them. This may include releasing lady bugs in your garden or even washing plants with soapy water. Just remember to relocate any caterpillars before you do this.
    NOTE: Some caterpillars have hairs that can sting. While this is rare, it is possible, so always use gloves when moving caterpillars.

Rotten fruit can also act as an attractant for butterflies.
  • 6

    Add Other Attractants

    Nectar from the colorful flowers in your garden will attract many butterflies but you can sweeten the deal by setting out some rotting fruit. Some species of butterflies eat rotting fruit and other organic materials including tree sap.

Enjoy your garden and consider tracking the butterflies you see as an additional learning exercise.
  • 7

    Enjoy!

    When your butterfly garden is complete you can simply enjoy the view, or use it as a learning activity. Consider keeping a log of the types of butterflies you see along with the date, time and weather conditions when you see them. You'll find that because butterflies are ectothermic, they are more likely to come out on sunny days and may hide in their shelter spots on cloudy days. Have fun!

Tips

  • Research which types of butterflies live in your area.
  • Use a field guide to identify the butterflies you see locally.
  • Keep the garden area small to make the project more manageable and cost effective.
  • Keep activities age appropriate.
  • Plan the work across multiple days to make the effort more manageable.
  • Be sure to identify plants to feed caterpillars (a butterly nursery) as well as plants to feed adult butterflies.
  • Keep the center area of your garden open and use rocks to create an area for sunning and shelter.
  • Use planters, taller plants and hedges in the outer areas of your garden to provide wind and weather breaks.
  • Create a mud puddle by filling a dish with a half and half mix of sand and composted manure.
  • Keep the mud puddle wet to provide a safe drinking area for your butterflies and to provide essential salts for male butterflies.