Skip to main content

Susquehanna Life

How To Create a Butterfly Garden

Monarch butterflies typically show up in Pennsylvania starting in mid-May, so it makes sense to start planning your garden now.

  1. Choose your location: In the debate over whether butterflies prefer a garden with full or partial sun, it’s important to remember that a variety of conditions is optimal. Some plants grow better in partial sun, and butterflies will need a refuge from the harsh summer sun. And butterflies prefer areas with little to no wind.
  2. Select your plants: Milkweed is the cornerstone of a successful butterfly garden. Planting a mix of both native and non-invasive annuals will entice more monarchs to spend time in your garden. Milkweed serves as both a host plant for caterpillars and a nectar source for butterflies. Swamp Milkweed offers pretty pink blooms and a sweet vanilla scent; Tropical Milkweed is one of the most popular species for egg-laying females, and a popular nectar source for late-season monarchs; Butterfly Weed is a popular nectar plant. Other perennial flowers that entice butterflies to your garden include: purple coneflower, butterfly bush, aster, sedum, black-eyed susan, bee balm and Russian sage.
  3. More on flowers: Perennial plants come back year after year and are a good low-maintenance foundation for your butterfly garden. You can add variety and color by including some annual flowering plants, as well. Good examples include: ageratum, bachelor’s button, cosmos, dahlia, dianthus, globe amaranth, penta, petunia, sweet alyssum and verbeana. 
  4. How to plant: Before you plant, prepare your soil. Many butterfly-friendly plants prefer well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter. Compost and humus are excellent additives for increasing organic matter and nutrients in your soil. All milkweed should be planted in groups of at least six plants, otherwise your caterpillars may run out of milkweed—their appetite is that voracious!  
  5. Get certified: Monarch Watch is a non-profit organization that conducts research promoting the conservation of monarch butterflies. Waystations are community-created monarch habitats throughout North America. By registering your waystation, you’ll be helping monarch recover from a devastating population loss.

Get Inspired with a visit to the Smithsonian Institution’s Butterfly Habitat Garden at Ninth Street and Constitution Avenue NW in Washington, DC,  and the Ripley Garden across the Mall on the east side of the Arts and Industries Building. They are both good places to see milkweed integrated into a garden setting.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Susquehanna Life's free newsletter to stay informed