Find Orlando Family Magazine on Facebook! Follow Orlando Family Magazine on Twitter!

How to Plant a Butterfly Garden

I remember the first time a butterfly landed on my daughter’s hand. She was three years old, and she stood very still and gazed at the beautiful, winged creature. With their multitude of colors and feather light touch, butterflies are magical. How about adding a little magic to your garden this spring?

A butterfly garden can create a wonderful opportunity for your children to be outside, breath in the fresh air, soak up some sunshine, and dig in the dirt. Gardening engages children’s five senses, encourages their natural curiosity about how things grow, and gives them a sense of accomplishment when they finish a project. As you plant the garden, talk with your child about a butterfly’s life cycle and habitat. Bonus: You’ll love a beautiful sanctuary in your backyard just as much as the kids! Here’s how to build a butterfly garden:

Choose a Sunny, Sheltered Spot 

Butterflies and their food plants require a lot of sun, according to horticulturist Corinne Hannah. “Since butterflies cannot regulate their internal temperature and need sunlight to warm their bodies and enable them to fly, it is important that your garden has plenty of sun,” she says. “Many nectar plants require full sun as well for optimum bloom” In addition to picking a sunny spot, it helps to create a sheltered area, so that butterflies don’t have to fight the wind. Hannah suggests using plant material or trellises to help reduce wind speed and create a wind barrier.

Prepare Your Soil

If you have poor soil quality, add organic matter to help enrich it. You can use your own compost or purchase it in a bag or bulk at a garden center. Building a raised bed will also give you more control over the soil quality.

Provide Resting Spots and “Puddling” Places

Place flat, light-colored stones in your garden where butterflies can rest their wings and bask in the sun. Also, make sure you have some wet, sandy spots where butterflies can drink water and extract minerals from the damp soil. “A gardener can plan for puddling sites by creating a sandy beach in a water garden or by adding sand to a bird bath and keeping it moist, or simply allowing for mud puddles in your garden,” Hannah says

Plant Native Flowering Plants

Most species of butterflies use nectar as their main source of food, so including flowering plants in your garden is essential. It’s important to plant flowers that are native to the region, because the butterflies depend on their native plants for survival and reproduction. You can find a list of butterflies native to our area at Once you’ve identified the types of butterflies in your region, click over to to find the best plants for your garden. Then, visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at for a list of recommended native plants.

Plant for Continuous Bloom

Since butterflies need nectar throughout their adult life, choose plants that bloom in early, mid, and late summer. Annual and biennial plants often have a long bloom season and will cover temporary bloom gaps in your perennial garden, according to Hannah.

Include Host Plants

Mother butterflies lay eggs on specific plants called host plants. When caterpillars hatch out of their eggs, they eat the host plants. It’s important to include host plants in your garden, so the butterflies will take up residence there and not just pass through. Learn more about host plants at

Avoid Herbicides and Pesticides

These products contain chemicals that kill butterflies and other beneficial insects in their larval and adult phases. As you plant and tend to your garden, you can talk with your child about how the choices you make affect the butterflies and their habitat.

Watch the Butterflies Arrive!

Once your garden is planted, your family can sit back and watch the butterflies sip nectar from the flowers, congregate in puddles, and bask in the sun. As you enjoy your garden, you can feel good in knowing that you’ve helped butterflies find a perfect home!


Butterfly Books

To learn more about butterflies and their habitat, check out these wonderful children’s books:

  • Inside Butterflies by Hazel Davies
  • Face to Face with Caterpillars by Darlyne A. Murawski
  • How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids by Carol Pasternak
  • From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman