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Attracting Butterflies

Backyard Conservation Tip Sheet

Making your yard more attractive to butterflies does not have to be an expensive, major undertaking. A few choice plants, a basking site, and a source of water may be all that is needed to entice these colorful insects into your yard.

Before selecting plants for butterflies, find out what species are common in your area. While many species such as the well-known Monarch are found across most of the United States, other species are native to specific parts of the country. Knowing what types of butterflies are common in your area will help you select proper plants for the larvae.

Butterfly larvae--or caterpillars--have specific food requirements. Most species can only survive on a few types of plants. Monarch larvae feed only on milkweed plants, while the similar looking Viceroy larvae feed on willow and poplar leaves. The Black Swallowtail larvae feed on plants such as carrots, dill, and parsley. Many species feed on native plants, including those often called weeds such as nettle and thistle.

Adult butterflies require a source of nectar or other liquid from sap or over-ripe fruits. Their long mouthparts are able to reach deep into flowers to obtain this nectar. Butterfly weed, phlox, clover, zinnias, goldenrod, lantana, liatris, asters, and numerous other species will provide the colorful adults with their needed food.

  1. Here are some suggestions to make your yard more desirable for butterflies:
  2. Avoid using insecticides. Butterflies are insects; therefore, most insect sprays will kill butterflies.
  3. Learn to recognize the larvae of butterflies. Those caterpillars eating your parsley may be the larvae of the Swallowtail butterfly.
  4. Plant a variety of flowers that bloom from spring until fall. They will provide a continuous source of nectar for the adult butterflies.
  5. Include native plant species in your garden.
  6. While adults are attracted to a wide variety of flowers, many have a preference for red, yellow, orange, and purple flowers. Single flowers are easier for butterflies to get nectar from than the fuller double blossoms.
  7. Locate your garden in full sun. Butterflies are most active on warm sunny days.
  8. Provide a source of water such as a shallow saucer of water or a birdbath. Butterflies do drink.
  9. Place several flat rocks in full sun in the garden. Butterflies need to warm up in the morning before they are capable of active flight. Rocks provide a basking site for butterflies to raise their body temperature.

Be patient! It may take time for butterflies to find your yard, especially if you are the only one in the neighborhood providing desirable habitat. Even if you don't attract the desired species at first, keep trying and enjoy the beauty of the plants!

For more information on wildlife habitat and other Backyard Conservation practices, contact your local conservation district or the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Or call 1-888-LANDCARE (toll free) for a free colorful Backyard Conservation booklet and tip sheets.

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