There’s nothing that adds beauty and interest to your garden like butterflies, so why not create a garden specifically to attract them? You too can create your very own backyard butterfly oasis!

Many butterfly species are under threat from habitat loss and lack of food sources. Many people have heard about the plight of one species in particular: the monarch. Scientists estimate that the population size of monarch butterflies has decreased by 90% since the 1990s! In 2018, the population started to rebound because more gardeners paid attention to planting their choice of food — milkweed — and providing other elements they need to survive, such as water and shelter.

You can help monarchs and other butterflies so that we continue to reap the benefits of their pollinating prowess and get to enjoy them when they visit our gardens. Here’s how to make a backyard butterfly oasis.

Plant Butterfly Attractors

Butterflies require different food sources for their different life stages. Caterpillars (larval stage) eat plant material (called larval host plants), while butterflies feed on nectar from flowers. To attract butterflies, you’ll want to plant plenty of both.

Larval Host Plants

  • Dill
  • Carrots
  • Alfalfa
  • Cherry Trees
  • Birch Trees
  • Fennel
  • Parsley
  • Milkweed
  • Spicebush
  • Pawpaws
  • Violets
  • Lupine
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Vetch
  • Clover
  • Ornamental Grasses

Butterfly Stage (Flowers)

When deciding which flowers to grow, it’s key to look at their bloom times. To best support butterflies, you want to choose species with staggered bloom times so that butterflies have food available throughout the entire growing season. If all of your flowers are finished by late spring, the butterflies will have to look elsewhere for food! Remember that native plants are also usually a good bet for butterfly gardens.

  • Milkweed
  • Coneflower
  • Blueberries
  • Asters
  • Bee Balm (Monarda)
  • Angelica
  • Yarrow
  • Phlox
  • Sunflowers
  • Daisies
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Salvia
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
  • Verbena
  • Goldenrod
  • Joe-pye weed

Provide Habitat Essentials

Like other wildlife, butterflies need water. Setting out shallow pans of water or creating puddling spots (water-filled saucers with pebbles for butterflies to perch on) in your garden will allow them to drink. Butterflies also get important minerals from “puddling.” Alternatively, you can make an existing water feature more butterfly-friendly by adding some rocks or sand that stick partially out of the water so it’s easier for the butterflies to access.

Butterflies also need places to rest. They love to hang out in warm, sunny places. If you have space in a sunny section of your garden, add some flat rocks which will absorb heat from the sun and make great butterfly rest areas.

While some species of butterfly, like the monarch, migrate each year, many will overwinter in your yard. Different species survive the winter in different ways, but many seek shelter while they’re in the caterpillar or pupal stage in piles of leaves or brush. Leaving some leaves and brush in your yard can help butterflies survive the winter. You don’t have to leave this brush in the middle of your garden; let a pile accumulate in the back corner of the yard or between plants where the pile can stay hidden.

Some species spend the winter in trees or shrubs. If your area is particularly windy, adding taller trees and shrubs will double as a windbreak, making it easier for butterflies to feed in your garden. The cavities in standing dead trees are also a favorite spot for overwintering, so leave a little bit of dead wood if you can.

Native Butterflies to Look For

When you’ve provided butterflies with everything they need to thrive, you’ll start seeing more visitors! There are many species of butterflies found in Maryland, but these are the most common types likely to visit you:

  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
  • American Copper
  • Variegated Fritillary
  • Appalachian Brown
  • Monarch
  • Southern Cloudywing

If you'd like to identify species of butterflies present in your yard, Maryland Butterflies is an excellent resource.

Try implementing a few of our tips to create a butterfly oasis of your own, and get ready to experience your garden in a whole new light this summer.

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