How to Plan a Great Butterfly Garden

By for CAES News
Butterfly Photo Gallery

More on Butterfly Garden:

  • Best Butterfly Plants
  • Forages and Attractors
  • Place for Water, Rest
  • Attracting Hummingbirds
  • Location
    Soil Preparation
    Avoid Pesticides
    After Frost
    Spring Replanting

    TigerSwa.jpg (12351 bytes)
    Photo by Paul Thomas

    One of the most popular gardening specialties is butterfly and hummingbird gardening. The key is to select the widest array of nectar-producing flowers you can.

    Provide the butterflies and hummingbirds nectar all spring, summer and fall. Plant the food source, or forage, for the butterfly species you want.

    If your garden is a good source of nectar and forage, butterflies will inhabit it all season. Hummingbirds will be more apt to nest and hang around all summer, too.

    To have a successful butterfly and hummingbird garden, consider several things before planting.


    Most butterflies prefer to rest and feed in full sunshine, so the ideal place would have six or more hours of daily sunlight in June.

    If the site is grassy, remove the grass first. Tilling may work, but some grasses, such as Bermuda and centipede, can sprout by the millions from the chopped-up pieces. You may need to use a contact herbicide.

    Picture how you and others will view the garden and the butterflies. Putting larger plants to the rear and smaller plants up front makes sense. So does putting a butterfly feeding dish or birdbath where you can easily see it.

    Ready access to water will make watering and watching more convenient. A small bench or chair nearby will make the butterfly garden a great morning or evening resting spot.

    Soil Preparation

    The single most important thing you can do for your garden is prepare the soil. Use a shovel or tiller to turn it up 12 inches deep over the entire area.

    Add several bushels of compost, rotted pine bark or manure. Then till again until the soil is loose. Your plants will thrive in well-drained soil with lots of organic matter.

    Avoid Pesticides

    Anything used to kill bugs won't be good for a butterfly garden.

    One way to control pests is to gently wash the bugs off plants with a pressure nozzle on the garden hose. Many will drown. Insect predators will eat others on the ground.

    Do this in the morning, when bugs are active, to let the foliage dry before night. A few chewed leaves is a small price to pay for your butterflies' health.


    Fertilize your garden the day you plant it or clean it up after winter, around March 15. Evenly sprinkle about 1 pound of 10-10-10 for every 100 square feet of soil surface.

    Fertilize again in late May and again in mid-June. Don't get fertilizer on the flowers and leaves. It will burn them.

    Water thoroughly after fertilizing and often during dry spells. Weed occasionally, and remove spent flowers to keep more flowers coming.

    After Frost

    After a killing frost, let your plants dry down naturally. Around Thanksgiving, or Christmas if we have a warm fall, cut your butterfly bush and 'Miss Huff' Lantana stems to 6 inches high.

    With your lawn mower blade on high (3 inches or so), mow everything but the butterfly bush, lantana and other woody shrubs. It's best if you use a mulching blade.

    Leave the debris on the ground, and cover it with an inch or two of fresh pine straw. Mound leaves around the Lantana and butterfly-bush trunks.

    Spring Replanting

    Around May 1, scrape away mulch where you want new butterfly plants and install them as you did your first planting.

    Return the mulch and pine straw to the freshly planted area, and fertilize your whole garden. Water in the fertilizer thoroughly, and weed occasionally, as needed.

    Fertilize twice more, on May 21 and June 15. Don't fertilize again after July 1. Freshly planted perennials may need extra care.

    Scout your garden daily for problems and to enjoy the myriad of butterflies and other life that will come.

    Paul Thomas is a horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.