Butterfly Garden, Make Your Yard A Destination

Ilona Erwin

Butterfly gardens are simply a collection of plants, butterfly friendly methods, and the addition of a few special features. Anyone can have one in any size space. The magic begins when the butterflies discover it and arrive. Make your own butterfly garden, or a corner nook just for these flying visual jewels.

  • Description and tips for this garden theme
  • Ohio butterflies and the plants they like
  • A sample garden plan and plant suggestions


Leave It A Little Wild

Butterfly gardens aren’t perfect gardens… they have some plants that you might otherwise ignore, some with holes in the leaves from being a host plant and having no pesticide barriers.

Butterflies are insects, after all, and the pesticide will not distinguish between insects you love and those you abhor.

In short, a butterfly area is one that is worth making not just for your own delight (and what is more delightful than a butterfly floating upon the air, or delicately sipping from a flower?), but for the general environment as well.

Now, Make A Butterfly-Friendly Environment Happen

Make A Butterfly Garden… and some Monarch Butterfly facts

butterflies love zinnias

Butterflies love zinnias!

Because of the wild nature of some of the plants, this type of natural garden would lend itself to a peaceful place of observation and meditation.

Consider making its placement in the further reaches of the yard. Perhaps a neglected corner that now is reached by a path, or the suggestion of a path with a few stepping stones could lead to this wilder area of your yard.

Provide the space with a seat of some type, and natural clumps of butterfly plants surrounded by a small grove of trees or flanked with some shrubs to enclose it. As a result, such a spot would be a cheerful place for enjoying your winged visitors.

Perhaps you would like a hanging Butterfly House on a shed wall with a border trim of massed butterfly flowers below.

Tips for Creating a Butterfly Sanctuary

Did you know that these creatures drink water from shallow puddles of water, rather than larger pools? Consequently make your own, or buy a “puddler” to meet their needs for water. This can be an attractive garden ornament, as well as help for Lepidoptera health.

A Butterfly Puddler

A Few Garden Planning Tips:

  • Plant a variety of flowers instead of only one or two species
  • The best color combination is yellow, mauve, or lavender flowers with a strong scent
  • Note flowers in butterfly photos, like lantana and zinnias, to clue in on favored plants
  • Butterflies like to perch on trees and shrubs
  • Large rocks provide a resting and sunning spot

You might have some of the following visitors….

Ohio Butterflies

As a child I used to collect butterflies, but now that they are so rare in our gardens I don’t do that anymore. I love that people are now “collecting” with their digital cameras and preserving a record of this insect of gossamer and satin winged ornament without cutting short their lives. Some of the favorites were always the swallowtails.

Tiger Swallowtail

Males are the bright yellow butterflies with black tiger markings that light up my autumn clematis in late August. The females are sometimes darker. They like ‘Buttonbush’, Cephalanthus occidentalis, a shrub native to the US, and willows. [1]

Spicebush Swallowtail

Deeply colored, with the insets of bright blue on the plush black of the wings, it is reputed to be found only in the Eastern US and extreme southern Ontario. [2]. They eat the Sassafras tree leaves and those of the Lindera benzoin, a very choice native bush which is fragrant. Called ‘Spicebush’, the Lindera benzoin gives its nickname to the butterfly which feeds on it.

Black Swallowtail

The state butterfly of Oklahoma, these love the plants of the carrot family. Their black velvet wings inlaid with stained glass colors of yellow and blue are striking. Grow Queen Anne’s Lace, fennels, dill, and other plants of the Umbelliferae family.


Another favorite is this one and its mimic, the Viceroy.

Ohio usually has a large number of these beautiful and striking orange and black butterflies. That is the icon of butterflies in this part of the world. I love them and keep the weedy milkweeds in the garden just for them. Additionally, I started growing the garden cousin of the common milkweed:Asclepsias tuberosa.

Numerous common Butterflies…

We always have lots of Whites and Sulphurs at our place. I really can’t tell them apart, except for the basic color of bright yellow and whites. The whites are called  “Cabbage Butterflies” which is a tip-off on which plants they love to eat.

We also have the sweet little blue butterflies, the Azures. The one that usually catches my eye is the common Eastern Tailed Blue. It dines on the pea family… “yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis), alfalfa (Medicago sativa); various species of vetch (Vicia), clover (Trifolium), wild pea (Lathyrus), and bush clover (Lespedeza)” all of which grow in abundance in my yard and environs.

Plant those things which attract the different Lepidoptera of your region, create a space for your favorites. Remember to include both nectar and food source for egg, caterpillar and adult stages .


The name of this group of plants refers to the umbrella form of tiny flowers that comprise the fragile looking blooms on top of stems that are often surprisingly tough. These plants also attract welcome insects such as ladybugs, parasitic wasps and predatory flies- as well as the desired butterflies.

Make Your Yard Their Destination

Plants to plant:

Plant NameNotesButterflies
Lindera benzoin, shrubnative to USAVariety; Spicebush swallowtail, spring azure
Buttonbush, shrubnative to USAVariety; Spicebush swallowtail
Butterfly bush, shrubBuddleia is a butterfly magnet; several species and colors
Asclepsias, herbaceous perennialA. tuberosa, excellent orange garden plantmonarch, red admiral, swallowtails, skippers
Monardas, herbaceous perennialBee Balm is a showy herb garden plantVariety; painted lady, cabbage, mourning cloak, eastern tiger swallowtail
Liatris, herbaceous perennialBlazing Stars are prairie plantsPainted lady, fritillaries, skippers, sulphurs, coppers, checkerspots
Solidago, herbaceous perennialGoldenrods are weeds or garden plants… situate carefully.Sulphurs, whites, coppers, monarch, hairstreaks, viceroy, painted lady
Geranium maculatum, herbaceous perennialBeloved garden plantSkippers, eastern tailed blue
Mertensia virginica, herbaceous perennialwild garden plant, shade, native to USAvariety
Achilleas, herbaceous perennialYarrows are water conserving plantscoppers, hairstreaks, skippers, sulphurs
Rudbeckia hirta, herbaceous perennialBlack-eyed Susans, widely used for gardensWhites, sulphurs, brushfoots, skippers, blues
Violets, herbaceous perennialgood for larvaevariety
Asters, herbaceous perennialnow named ”ed admiral, painted lady, monarch, pearl crescent, whites, sulphurs
Stokesia laevis, herbaceous perennialnot nativegreat spangled fritillary
Chelone obliqua, wildflowerTurtlehead is a good garden flower, native.common buckeye and possibly Monarch
Claytonia virginica, wildflowerSpring Beauties naturalize in woodsy places.Skippers,Blues,Whites
Echinacea purpurea, herbaceous perennialPrairie flowerVariety,eastern tiger swallowtail,skippers,great spangled fritillary
Eupatorium coelestinum, herbaceous perennialBlue Mist flowermany types
Baptisia australisprairie plant, nativecloudless sulphur,Eastern tailed-blue,frosted elfin
Amelanchier, treeFine ornamentalspring azure,hessel’s
Crataegus, treeHawthorns attract birds, toojuvenal’s duskywing, Henry’s elfin
Aristolochia macrophylla, vineDutchman’s pipePipevine swallowtail
Schizachyrium,grassLittle bluestem good prairie grasscommon wood nymph,

Suggested Garden Plan

butterfly garden

butterfly garden (note shallow fountain in back)

Sample Garden Plans

For small yard or a specific area of a larger one.

Sunny Garden, Sunny Spot

This plan would be appropriate for a sunny spot.

Center the garden plan with a landing station, perhaps a bubbler fountain within some large pebbles. Use smooth flattened rocks, like river pebbles. A space with a spectators bench, nearby.

Surround with a flower bed rimmed at its edge with Phlox divaricata, Stokesia laevis and Oenethera speciosa. Mid height plants of Rudbeckia, Monarda, Sedum spectibilis, and Echinacea purpurea.  Backed with tall New England Asters and Buddleiabushes.

Site a nice large rock or two within the front of the border (preferably with a small depression to hold water), certain to attract winged guests.

More About the plants

Shady Gardens

Idea for shady spots:
Dogwoods, wild cherry, and redbud trees are good tree choices to surround your butterfly area.

Focal point of a large flat rock with depression to catch and hold water. Lindera benzoin shrub, surrounded with Chelone (Turtlehead), Lobelia cardinalis, and Aruncus dioicus. Underplant with violets, and Mertensia (Virginia bluebells).
Regular moisture is imperative for most of these plants.

More Resources

Or these professional plans with pictures and plantlists!

pink butterfly garden plan

Pink flowered butterfly garden plan from gardencenterohio.com

“Consistently appropriate habitat conditions consistently available”. Like many creatures, consistency of food and shelter source is a big plus. Try to maintain your yard with suitable habitats that support the butterflies established upon them.

D-I-Y Bubbler Fountain: Directions for the moderately experienced. You can make your own water feature that is ideal for visiting butterflies.

Butterfly Blog, Site

List of Ohio butterflies and moths

*Resource for plants, PDF infosheet of butterflies and moths

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.