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Butterfly Gardening

By Phelan Gardens Published
Butterfly Gardening

Butterfly Gardening 101:

How to attract butterflies to your yard

Click here for a list of butterfly friendly plants and flowers


Butterflies are one of nature’s most beautiful creatures, and they are everywhere!  By following a few simple guidelines, you can attract them into your garden to enjoy all summer long.  When planting a butterfly garden, you must keep their three top needs in mind… food, shelter, and a place to raise their young.


As adults, butterflies feed only on liquids.  That can range from nectar from flowers to pools of muddy water in the garden.  With this in mind, you will want to plant a variety of flowering annuals, perennials, and shrubs to attract and feed your flying flowers.

In addition to flowers, you can also add a shallow tray or saucer filled with sand to the garden.  The butterflies will feed off of water that pools in these trays and pull from them important minerals and other nutrients.

Tip! Favorite colors are purples and yellows...but don’t limit your color scheme.


Butterflies need a place to hunker down for the night or in adverse weather conditions. To provide shelter to these winged wonders, you can add shrubs or large perennials to your garden.  Butterflies will also roost in wood piles, split rail fences, or any other warm crevice they can fit into.  As far as butterfly houses go, one or two species will use these as shelter, but they are more just a cute decoration for the gardener to enjoy.


The most IMPORTANT part of your butterfly garden BY FAR will be a place to raise young caterpillars.  You will need to plant host plants, which are the specific plant a caterpillar likes to feed on.  Different varieties of butterflies will have different host plants.  For example, Monarch caterpillars will only feed on varieties of swamp milkweed, whereas Black Swallowtail caterpillars will feed on parsley, dill, fennel, and annual rue. 

REMEMBER!  Some of these plants are for caterpillars to feed on, so they will be EATEN and GET HOLES.  It’s natural and they will re-grow.  IMPORTANT:  It is critical to utilize organic practices in any pollinator garden. Herbicides and pesticides will have an adverse effect on these creatures.

Be sure to plant a variety of plants to attract different butterfly species to your garden.  Click here for a list of butterfly friendly plants and flowers

Common Colorado species and their host plants include:

Monarchs: Milkweed
Tiger Swallowtails: Poplar, Aspen, Cottonwood, Chokecherry
Painted Ladies: Borage
Black Swallowtails: Dill, Parsley
Variegated Fritillary: Pansy, Viola