Home and Garden

How to create a butterfly garden

Person in garden with butterfly on hand

Most butterflies only live a week. Make those few precious days count — plant a butterfly garden!

All gardens are not created equal. Just ask any butterfly.

Creating and restoring butterfly habitat offsets what development, roadside mowing or wetland drainage have destroyed. (Gardening pesticide-free helps, too.)

Whether you have a small plot in the big city or a few acres, transform your yard into a butterfly garden!

Many butterfly species don’t migrate. You can provide habitat and food for their entire life cycle — eggs, larvae, pupae AND adults — throughout the year.

Think beyond providing flowers for nectar in the height of summer.

What you'll need

01

Host plants

Adults need a place to lay eggs where their caterpillars will forage. (Plant species that will get eaten and not just look pretty!)

02

Mud puddles

Some butterflies rarely visit flowers. They prefer mud, poop (a.k.a. “scat” or “dung”), sap and rotting fruit.

03

Overwintering habitat

Consider not raking leaves to provide a butterfly nursery! Most butterflies in Canada overwinter as caterpillars, others as pupae. A few species winter as adults, hibernating in hollow trees, under bark and firewood piles, or in garden shed cracks and crevices. Few spend winter as eggs.

04

Blooms from spring through fall

Don’t limit your garden to an end of July color extravaganza. You’ll need a diversity of native nectar plants to flower over a few months.

05

Sunshine

Make sure you (or your neighbours) have sunny spots.

06

Nectar plants

Most butterflies will feed from more than a few plant species.

Think about the role of your yard

Is it a habitat source (high-quality patch that supports population increases)? Or is it more of an island?

Some yards can provide for one butterfly species’ entire life cycle. Some are disconnected from other habitat patches.

Walk around the block and view your neighbourhood through a butterfly’s eyes. Chat with your neighbours and see what they’re planting. Note possible connecting corridors between butterfly-friendly patches. Can schoolyards, boulevards and local green spaces help support butterflies?

Butterflyway Rangers at St. Anthony Catholic Elementary School

The Butterflyway Project

The Butterflyway Project is a citizen-led movement growing highways of habitat for bees and butterflies across Canada, one butterfly-friendly planting at a time.

Volunteer Butterflyway Rangers have connected with local schools, city agencies and homeowners to plant thousands of wildflowers in hundreds of pollinator patches, establishing Butterflyways in nine neighbourhoods and cities!

Learn more

Get to know native butterfly species

Buy or borrow a guide book to local species, download fact sheets, join a naturalist group (e.g., for native plants or for kids) and attend presentations in your area.

Attract butterflies with native plants — Eastern Canada

Attract butterflies with native plants — Western Canada

Monarch butterfly

Did you know?

  • Sunny days are best for butterfly watching.
  • Some individual butterflies live only a week, but the flight season for a species may be more than a month. The migrating monarch “super generation” may live for several months.
  • Butterfly season can run from as early as March (in B.C.) through October.
  • Females are slightly larger than males — because she carries the eggs!
  • Butterflies and hummingbirds share many nectar flowers, so efforts to lure one may attract both.

How to attract some common butterflies

Butterflies need nectar plants for food and host plants to lay their eggs.

Tiger swallowtails

Tiger swallowtails choose nectar plants like lilacs or bee balm; nearby willow, alder, aspen or apple trees can host larva.

Painted ladies

Painted ladies choose nectar plants like aster, cosmos or zinnia; host plants include lupines, native thistle, mallow or hollyhock.

Monarchs

Monarchs choose nectar plants like milkweed, lilac, goldenrod and cosmos; host plants include the milkweed family.

To attract butterflies like the red admiral, tiger swallowtail and mourning cloak, you can also set up a nectar feeder using a solution of one part sugar to 18 parts water.