Creating a butterfly garden doesn’t just increase the beauty of your garden and allow you to see these exciting insects up close - it also helps conserve butterflies, providing food, water and a safe haven to a species whose natural habitats are constantly being lost to urbanisation.
With just a few plants and flowers, you can design a butterfly habitat in whatever available space you have, from traditional gardens to balcony spaces and even windowsills! Here Ryan Jenkins from Sefton Meadows explains how to create a butterfly garden, no matter the size of your garden.
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How to create a butterfly garden
There’s no single way to create a beautiful butterfly garden. You can design your garden however you like, as long as you include some essential factors that will guarantee butterfly-friendly settings. Here are our top tips for attracting butterflies to your garden:
Do your research
Before you start your butterfly garden, you’ll first have to learn about the kinds of butterflies native to your area. Knowing which types of butterflies you’re aiming to attract is crucial for choosing the right nectar plants to include in your garden.
Plan your design
Planning out your butterfly garden will help you design it in the best way for the butterflies and for you as an observer. Ideally, you should consider the height that plants will reach, how you can group them by colour and maturity time, plus where any other additions you want to add will fit.
Choose the right flowers
The easiest way to make a garden attractive to butterflies is by planting flowers that produce plenty of nectar and pollen. Butterflies have a keen sense of smell that helps them detect edible nectar, and they can see bright clumps of colour. So, try to plant a variety of plants, including cultivated and wildflowers planted together in blocks.
Plant in the sun
Butterflies require energy from the sun's warmth to fly, and the plants that attract them need at least six hours of sunlight every day to produce the nectar they feed on. To give your butterfly garden the best chance, try to place your nectar-producing plants where they will receive plenty of sunshine for your winged friends to bask in.
Include food crops
Butterflies attach their eggs to the stems and leaves of plants that the larvae can feed on when hatched. By including crops like vegetables and herbs, you will provide a rich nesting ground for butterflies to lay their eggs in.
Don’t use chemicals
Finally, your butterfly garden must include no harsh chemicals as weed or pest control. A butterfly garden helps conserve their species, and pesticides will be toxic to them. Instead, use humane methods to rid your butterfly garden of any pests and keep your butterflies safe.
Small butterfly garden ideas
If your outdoor space is limited, don’t worry – there are still small things you can do to make a patch of your garden a haven for passing butterflies!
Since butterflies are pollinators, the one essential thing in any butterfly garden is plants. Butterflies like plants that are rich in nectar, often favouring plants with flat or tubular blooms. So by planting clusters of bright-coloured flowers that the short-sighted butterflies can see, you’ll soon be spotting an array of those beautiful insects around your garden.
You can start a small butterfly garden in almost any space available, whether this be a balcony garden, a windowsill planter, your patio, or a small flowerbed. As long as you provide nectar-producing plants in a range of colours, you can rest assured that butterflies will follow.
Medium butterfly garden ideas
If you have a bit of extra room, you can be a bit more creative with your butterfly garden design. Try transforming a whole section of your garden into a haven for butterflies all year round by planting a range of flowers with different blooming seasons.
Add a birdbath to give butterflies and other visitors a place to drink and bathe, and make sure you clean and refill this regularly. To allow yourself to enjoy this wildlife zone in your garden, add a lightweight metal bench where you can watch on without harming or scaring the butterflies.
Best plants for butterflies
Finally, consider hanging some feeders over your butterfly garden. Butterflies love fruit that is on the verge of spoiling, and a range of fruits provide vital nutrients and vitamins that they can’t get from nectar. So leave out a combination of their favourites, which include apples, watermelon, strawberries, bananas and grapefruits, in a hanging feeder out of reach of less-desirable visitors such as rats and foxes.
Large butterfly garden ideas
Naturally, if you have an expansive space, your options for a butterfly garden are going to be broader. One unique option that you may not have considered for a large butterfly garden is a body of water. A small pond or even a lake can be incredibly beneficial if created with butterflies in mind.
Whether it be formal or more natural, a garden pond is the perfect habitat for a range of nectar-rich wildflowers to grow, which will provide butterflies and larvae with food. However, butterflies also need water just as much as they need nectar because of the minerals it provides.
A butterfly pond should resemble the natural water sources butterflies use, so you’ll want to create an area with plenty of sand or mud and enough water to top the substance’s surface. Finally, add some stones to the top and rim of your pond to give butterflies a safe place to perch.
Top off your pond with some aquatic plants like cinquefoil or forget-me-not, and cover the edges with plenty of wildflowers to cater to any butterflies’ needs.
Conserving butterflies and their natural habitats is vital to the future of their species. Without these important pollinators, the planet’s biodiversity would take a hit, the food chain would lose an essential link, and many flowering plants would not be able to bloom.
However, by creating a butterfly garden in your own yard, you can give butterflies a natural habitat to thrive and grow – and you’ll be lucky enough to witness it!
Sefton Meadows is a family-run, independent in-store and online garden centre.
Ryan Jenkins is a blog writer for Sefton Meadows, with over 25 years of gardening experience behind him, he’s regularly sharing his wealth of knowledge to their blog audience.