Butterfly Gardens

Butterflies are very important little creatures. They carry pollen from plant to plant which plants need to make their seeds. Without seeds, plants could not reproduce and many would become extinct. But butterflies are in danger, too. They need places to live. You can help butterflies by making a home for them in your yard.

Pick a good spot. Choose a spot where you can view the garden from a window or sitting area. You’ll need full sun, 6 or more hours a day. For limited space, consider container gardening. A site sheltered from heavy winds, protected by trees, shrubs or walls works best. Stones set in sunny locations give butterflies spots to warm their bodies for flying.


Monarch caterpillar on Asclepius tuberosa

BOTANICAL NAME:  Asclepias spp.

BLOOM TIME:  Early to Mid-Summer

COLORS:  Depends upon species – orange, reds, yellows, pinks

SPECIAL FEATURES: Milkweeds are the required host plants for caterpillars of the monarch butterfly. Milkweed plants are the host plants for monarch butterflies, but milkweed is also a highly sought nectar source for many other butterfly species as well as hummingbirds and many beneficial insects. The showy flowers of milkweeds offer abundant, high quality nectar to pollinators, making them notable honey bee plants.


Asclepias fascicularis

Asclepias fascicularis

BOTANICAL NAME: Asclepius fascicularis

BLOOM TIME:  May – October

COLORS: Corolla pink, corona white

Narrow-leaved milkweed is the most widespread species in California, growing in every region of the state except the Sonoran Desert and the mountainous regions of the Sierra Nevada. Milkweed is easiest to sow seeds outside directly in fall rather than summer.


Buddleia dcvidii BOTANICAL NAME:  Buddleia davidii



BLOOM TIME:  Summer and Fall

COLORS:  Pink, Purple, White and Magenta

SPECIAL FEATURES:  Attracts Birds and Butterflies Buddleias need full sun and fertile, well-drained soil.

Milkweeds are very DROUGHT TOLERANT. Water them freely when first planted and when growing vigorously. Then, sparingly the rest of the time. In the summer, if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week, water deeply when needed.

Echinacea - Coneflower, a butterfly favorite

Tips to Help Attract Butterflies to Your Garden


At different stages of their lives, butterflies eat different things. The caterpillar of almost all butterflies eat various parts of plants, especially the leaves. Each kind of butterfly (species) may prefer only a few kinds of plants or plant parts. Most butterfly adults sip flower nectar (but some eat fluids from sap flowers on trees, rotting fruits, bird or animal droppings.) Pay attention to the plants that butterflies land on in nurseries and public gardens and plant the same ones in your garden.

Monarch on Buddleia

A Monarch butterfly drinking nectar from the blooms of a butterfly bush Buddleia



Most adult  eat only liquids of different kinds to maintain their water balance and to give them energy. Butterflies sometimes have to drink fluids from wet sand or mud along streams and at the edges of dirt roads or trails. A big rock with a natural indentation makes a good drinking fountain for butterflies. Shallow puddles are good also.

Monarch butterflies drinking water

Monarch butterflies driving water from a stream as they migrate through Mexico.



Butterflies do not fl y at night. When it rains, they usually seek shelter in the same places they go for the night. Some butterflies hide under leaves, some crawl down under rocks, and some just sit, with their head down, on grass or branches with their wings held tightly. If it rains very hard, or if it is very windy, butterflies can become tattered or die. They prefer sunny areas because they are “coldblooded,” and need the sun’s heat to warm their bodies before they can fl y around.


Butterfly food. Butterflies can eat anything that can dissolve in water. They mostly feed on nectar from flowers but also eat tree sap, dung, pollen, or rotting fruit.


A healthy soil food web will benefit all plants and creatures. Soil organisms feed on organic compounds in the soil, breaking down and releasing nutrients the plants need but cannot extract from the soil themselves. A healthy soil food web of organisms breaking down organic matter into a form available for nutrient uptake by plants’ roots improves the fertility of the soil and the vigor of the plants.  Compost worked into the soil is an excellent natural amendment that improves soil conditions by feeding and increasing soil organisms and increasing soil moisture retention. Organic mulches applied as a top dressing suppress weeds, prolong soil moisture, help control erosion and improve soil conditions and the soil food web as they break down over time.

SOURCE: US Dept. of Agriculture, NRCS website:   http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_MEDIA/nrcs142p2_049822.jpg

SOURCE: US Dept. of Agriculture, NRCS website: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_MEDIA/nrcs142p2_049822.jpg



PestFreeZoneButterflies are insects. Any insecticide that can kill your gardens “pests,” will kill butterflies and other friends, too. Any insecticide may affect butterfly caterpillars, other beneficials, and soil microbes. Even a small dose of pesticides will ruin a sustainable garden’s biological balance and biodiversity advantage. One of the most important conservation decisions you can make is to avoid the use of chemicals in the garden. It is healthier for you, the beneficial insects, and the environment.  Go Organic and Don’t Use Chemicals!


BUTTERFLY BUSH - Buddleia dcvidii


The main purpose of “host“ plants is to provide shelter for butterflies to lay their eggs, and provide food for developing caterpillars. Host plants encourage the butterflies to breed and lay eggs. 

The main purpose of “nectar“ plants is to provide food for adult butterflies.

type of Butterfly

Caterpillar Host Plant

Butterfly Nectar Source

American Painted Lady Everlasting, Daisy, Burdock Aster, Dogbane, Goldenrod, Mallow, Privet, Vetch
American Snout Hackberry Aster, Dogbane, Dogwood, Goldenrod, Pepperbush
Anise Swallowtail Queen Anne’s Lace Buddleia, Joe Pye Weed
Baltimore Checkerspot Turtlehead, False Foxglove, Plantain Milkweed, Viburnum, Wild Rose
Black Swallowtail Parsley, Dill, Fennel Aster, Buddleia, Joe Pye Weed, Alfalfa
Clouded Sulphur Clover Goldenrod, Grape Hyacinth, Marigold
Cloudless Sulphur Cassia, Apple, Clover Zinnia, Butterfly Bush, Cosmos, Cushion Mum
Comma Elm, Hops, Nettle Butterfly Bush, Dandelion
Common Buckeye Snapdragon, Loosestrife Carpetweed
Common Checkered Skipper Mallow/Hollyhock Shepherd’s needles, Fleabane, Aster, Red Clover
Common Sulphur Vetch Aster, Dogbane, Goldenrod
Common Wood-nymph Purpletop Grass Purple Coneflower
Eastern Pygmy Blue Glasswort Salt Bush
Eastern Tailed Blue Clover, Peas Dogbane
Falcate Orangetip Rock Cress, Mustard Mustard, Strawberry, Chickweed, Violet
Giant Swallowtail Citrus Joe Pye Weed, Buddleia
Gorgone Checkerspot Sunflower Sunflower, Goldenrod
Gray Hairstreak Mallow/Hollyhock, Clover, Alfalfa Thistle, Ice Plant
Great Spangled Fritillary Violet Thiste, Black-eyed Susan, Milkweed, Ironweed
Greater Fritillary Violet Joe Pye Weed
Gulf Fritillary Pentas, Passion-vine Joe Pye Weed
Hackberry Emperor Hackberry Sap, Rotting fruit, Dung, Carrion
Little Glassywing Purpletop Grass Dogbane, Zinnia
Little Yellow Cassia, Clover Clover
Monarch Milkweed Dogbane, Buddleia
Mourning Cloak Willow, Elm, Poplar, Birch, Nettle, Wild Rose Butterfly Bush, Milkweed, Shasta Daisy, Dogbane
Orange Sulphur Vetch. Alfalfa, Clover Alfalfa, Aster, Clover, Verbena
Orange-barred Sulphur Cassia Many plants
Painted Lady Thistle, Daisy, Mallow/Hollyhock, Burdock Aster, Zinnia
Pearl Crescent Aster Dogbane
Pipevine Swallowtail Dutchman’s Pipe, Pipevine Buddleia
Polydamus Swallowtail Pipevine Buddleia
Queen Milkweed Milkweed, Beggar-tick, Daisy
Question Mark Hackberry, Elm, Nettle, Basswood Aster, Milkweed, Sweet Pepperbush
Red Admiral Nettle Stonecrop, Clover, Aster, Dandelion, Goldenrod, Mallow
Red-spotted Purple Black Cherry, Willow, Poplar Privet, Poplar
Silver-spotted Skipper Black Locust, Wisteria Dogbane, Privet, Clover, Thistle, Winter Cress
Silvery Checkerspot Sunflower Cosmos, Blanket Flower, Marigold, Phlox, Zinnia
Sleepy Orange Cassia, Clover Blue Porter, Beggar Tick, Aster
Spicebush Swallowtail Spicebush, Sassafras Dogbane, Joe Pye Weed, Buddleia
Spring Azure Dogwood, Viburnum, Blueberry, Spirea, Apple Blackberry, Cherry, Dogwood, Forget-me-not, Holly
Tawny Emperor Hackberry Tree sap, Rotting fruit, Dung, Carrion
Tiger Swallowtail Black Cherry, Birch, Poplar, Willow Joe Pye Weed, Buddleia
Variegated Fritillary Violet, Passion Vine Joe Pye Weed
Viceroy Willow, Poplar, Fruit Trees Thistle, Beggar-tick, Goldenrod, Milkweed
Western Tailed Blue Clover, Peas Legumes
White Admiral Birch, Willow, Poplar, Honeysuckle Aphid Honeydew, Bramble Blossom
Zabulon Skipper Purpletop Grass Blackberry, Vetch, Milkweed, Buttonbush,Thistle
Zebra Longwing Passion-vine Verbena, Lantana, Shepard’s Needle
Zebra Swallowtail Pawpaw Dogbane, Joe Pye Weed, Buddleia, Privet, Blueberry