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Create a butterfly-friendly garden

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Bring the magic of butterflies to your yard with a garden that supports them through all stages of their life—from egg to winged beauties.

There is something both relaxing and energizing about watching butterflies. They delight us with splendid colors and patterns, as well as their aerial dances. Michigan is home to more than 160 species of butterflies, and you can attract some of them to your yard. All you need is a garden designed to supply them with food and shelter for all stages of their life. Here are tips for getting started.

Select a sunny, sheltered place

Butterflies and the nectar-producing plants they like do best in a warm, sunny place. A half-day of direct sun will be enough.

Butterflies also like places where they can be sheltered from the wind. If possible, include a windbreak in your design. A fence, wall or shrub can do the job.

Consider adding flat rocks to your garden to give butterflies a place to bask in the sun and regulate their temperature.

Plant their favorites in groups

It’s easier for butterflies to locate a mass of plants they like rather than individual plants dispersed throughout the garden.

Annuals and perennials alike provide shelter and nectar for butterflies. There are too many to name here but favorite perennials include butterfly bush, asters, bee balm, sedum, yarrow and coneflowers. Annuals that grab butterflies’ attention include marigolds, cosmos, zinnias, nasturtiums and verbena, to name a few.

Butterfly food is not limited to ornamental flowers; carrot, dill and parsley attract swallowtails.

Provide water

Butterflies get water from dew and rain but in dry periods that may not be sufficient. Supplement their water supply with puddling stations. A station can be as simple as a saucer with gravel where they can sip from a shallow supply of water. Read how to make a butterfly puddling pool here.

Choose milkweed to attract Monarchs

Some butterflies will only lay their eggs on specific plants. The much-loved Monarch depends on milkweed to support the next generation during the egg and caterpillar stages. MSU Extension lists six that are available in Michigan:

  • common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
  • butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnate)
  • whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillate)
  • tall milkweed (Asclepias exaltata)
  • prairie milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii)

(Bonus: you can track the monarch’s journey north on this online map.)

Learn more about butterfly gardens

The North American Butterfly Association has detailed information online on creating a paradise for butterflies no matter how large or small of an area you have.

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