How to Start a Butterfly Garden

Are you looking to attract butterflies to your yard? Would you like to see caterpillars and watch them turn into butterflies? Planting a butterfly garden is the perfect way to observe them and to help protect them. The theme for this week’s Virtual Book Club for Kids is butterflies. Be sure to check out all of the butterfly themed posts inspired by The Very Hungry Caterpillar at the end. Affiliate links are included in this post.

Tips and resources for starting a small butterfly garden at home

How to Start a Butterfly Garden

There is so much information on the Internet about how to start a butterfly garden. It can be a little overwhelming and difficult to know where to begin. I’m going to tell you what we did and then link to a few websites for you to explore more.

How to start a butterfly garden

Providing a good habitat for butterflies is super important for helping their populations thrive. Pesticides and habitat destruction are causing a decline in their numbers. Every butterfly garden can help! This is especially true for monarch butterflies as they migrate across North America.

Plant Your Butterfly Garden in Full Sun

Butterflies like habitats with full sun. Some people say they have success with partial sun as well. Full sun means at least 6 hours of sunlight shining on your garden. Try to choose a location in your backyard that gets the most sunlight throughout the day. Experts also recommend minimizing wind exposure – meaning don’t plant your butterfly garden in a breezy area that will act like wind tunnel. The butterflies may never have a chance to stop and enjoy your flowers.

How to start a butterfly garden

Choose Native Plants

The easiest way to attract butterflies in your area is to use plants that are from your area. Do a little research to find out what will be successful in your garden. Ask for help. We chose a local garden center that said they sold Missouri natives on their website. They had quite a bit of information available and we felt they would be able to help us select the right plants.

When we got to the garden center, we asked an employee to help us out. She took us over to the native plants and talked us through the selection process. We told her how big our garden was going to be. We selected plants that would bloom at different times throughout the growing season, so we will attract butterflies all season long. Since we had such a small area to plant in, we chose just one of each plant.

How to start a butterfly garden

Attract Monarch Butterflies by Choosing the Right Plants

We wanted to be sure we were attracting monarch butterflies to our butterfly garden. To do this, your garden will need plants with nectar for the butterflies to feed on as well as plants for the caterpillars to eat. We chose two types of milkweed – whorled milkweed for the caterpillars and swamp milkweed for the butterflies. Download the milkweed information sheet from Monarch Joint Venture to learn what kind of milkweed to plant in your region.

We’re in the middle of the city and honestly didn’t think any monarchs would show up. We haven’t seen any flying around the garden. And to be honest, our milkweed plants look a little sad. The whorled milkweed was just getting too much rain. Our garden didn’t have the right drainage for it. However, tiny monarch caterpillars made an appearance a few days ago. They have been munching on the milkweed. We went back to the garden center and purchased some more plants for them to chow down on. These additional plants are in planters so they can drain properly.

No Pesticide

It is important that your garden be free of pesticides. Caterpillars and butterflies are greatly affected by pesticides. You can add plants that naturally repel pests like marigold, mint, and petunias. Ladybugs and dragonflies are excellent at pest control as well.

How to start a butterfly garden

More Resources for Starting a Butterfly Garden

North American Butterfly Association Butterfly Garden and Habitat Program
Butterfly Gardening from the Missouri Botanical Gardens
Monarch Joint Venture – resources specifically for helping monarchs
Monarch Watch – learn more about monarch butterflies
Journey North – learn about the monarch butterfly migration

Tips and resources for starting a small butterfly garden at home

Here are some easy ideas for teaching kids about butterfly conservation. In addition to planting a butterfly garden, this post has more conservation activities for kids including butterfly book recommendations.
Try these butterfly conservation activities for kids to learn about butterflies and their habitats.

More Activities from the Virtual Book Club for Kids

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See more butterfly activities inspired by The Very Hungry Caterpillar


Butterfly Food Challenge – Preschool Powol Packets
Paper Insect Display – Teach Beside Me
Caterpillar to Butterfly Science Activity with Balloons – The Educators’ Spin On It
Easy Sparkly Spin Art Butterflies – Toddler Approved
Pom Pom Caterpillar to Colorful Butterfly Craft – Artsy Momma
Caterpillar to Butterfly Craft – Mama Smiles
Exploring Shapes on Mats with a Butterfly Theme – JDaniel4’s Mom
Paper Butterfly Craft – Views from a Step Stool

Also stop by the Virtual Book Club for Kids Facebook page to see what others are sharing!

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