The Butterfly Garden Made Easy

Spread your wings with these tips for attracting those elusive butterflies to your summer garden.

Monarch butterflies on milkweed
Monarch butterflies on milkweed // Milkweed is an essential part of the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. To add more of this plant to our area, consider giving packets of milkweed seeds as favors at parties or weddings!

Flybutters or flutterbys … Young children have their own special names for those winged jewels of the air — the enchanting and inspiring butterfly. Children and adults alike can find peace and joy in using the warmer and longer days to design and plant a sensory-pleasing butterfly garden. And all will love the brightly colored, nectar-producing plants — not to mention the pretty butterflies (and often hummingbirds, too) that will soon come along. Encourage your child’s, and your own, sense of connection to the natural world as you invite butterflies into your landscape and observe the intricate relationships of plants and animals as thriving communities of their own. Offer these beautiful winged creatures food, water and shelter, and they will return again and again. 

Public Spaces

Explore numerous butterfly gardens nestled around town for inspiration on how to create your own eye-catching arrangements. 

Daphne History Museum 
Daphne’s horticultural experts have been busy establishing a butterfly garden at the Daphne History Museum in honor of longtime museum activist and butterfly lover Mickey Boykin. 

Mobile Botanical Gardens
Get a glimpse into the bug world at Mobile’s Pollinator Garden as you meander through its pathways of regional pollinator plants.

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Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail 
A stone’s throw from the sandy shores of Orange Beach, this trailside butterfly garden is a floral invitation to rest weary wings. 

Bellingrath Gardens
An historic gem, Bellingrath has a vast array of dazzling blooms that are sure to make any butterfly feel at home. 

Wilbourne Antique Rose Trail 
Located in Foley, this lepidoptera-friendly garden is dedicated to Terry Underwood, a lifelong advocate of public butterfly gardens. 

The Grand Hotel 
Mature bottlebrush bushes grace the edges of The Grand along Julep Point and attract monarchs as they return during migration.

Gulf Shores Museum
Bursting with lavish blooms, this garden also contains benches and tables for guests to rest as they enjoy the view.

Cornerstone Gardens and Arboretum
Designed as a place of meditation, this downtown Mobile sanctuary in the Oakleigh Garden District features a variety of garden types and includes one of the area’s largest koi ponds. 

Butterflies & Food

Common butterflies and preferred food sources:

Giant Swallowtail

• Host Plants for Caterpillars: Citrus, hop tree, prickly ash, rue  
• Nectar Plants for Butterflies: Lantana, orange tree

Eastern Black Swallowtail

Host Plants for Caterpillars: Carrots, celery, dill, parsley, Queen Anne’s lace                 
Nectar Plants for Butterflies: Milkweed, phlox


Host Plants for Caterpillars: Milkweed                                                                      
Nectar Plants for Butterflies: Milkweed, asters, red clover, zinnia, cosmos, lantana, Variegated Fritillary violets, pansies, passion flowers, pentas, daisies

American Painted Lady

Host Plants for Caterpillars: Daisies, everlastings   
Nectar Plants for Butterflies: Burdock, daisies, mallow, yarrow, zinnia               

Orange Sulphur

Host Plants for Caterpillars: White clover, alfalfa, clover lupine  
Nectar Plants for Butterflies: Dandelion, parsley

Silver-spotted Skipper

Host Plants for Caterpillars: Beans, licorice, wisteria               
Nectar Plants for Butterflies: Meadow flowers

Designing Your Space

Color is Key
It’s easy to add pollinator plants into existing spaces or create a separate area. The space you choose can be as large as you like or as small as 3 by 6 feet. Color is very important in this special area because that’s what first attracts butterflies. So a swath of red salvia or orange butterfly weed is easier for them to see. Fragrance is also a significant attractor, as butterflies have a keen sense of smell.

Contain Yourself
When short on space, welcome lovely insects by planting your flowers and herbs in containers. Grouping three or four large containers in the corner of a patio or deck will have a gorgeous impact. 

Let It Shine   
Should you decide to become a butterfly gardener, choose a good sunny spot that will sustain a long season (nearly year-round here) of nectar-providing flowers. A sunny spot is important, as butterflies need the sun’s heat to raise their body temperatures, helping them to fly.  

Perennials, such as chives, dianthus, bee balm, butterfly weed, black-eyed Susans and echinacea (cone flowers), will offer a succession of blooms. Annuals, such as cosmos, petunias, zinnias, marigolds, verbena and sunflowers, will continue to attract butterflies for months. They also appreciate nighttime hiding spaces, such as small trees or large shrubs where they can hide and attach while in their chrysalis.

In addition to including plants for adult butterflies, food plants for the caterpillar larvae need to be included. Herbs such as dill, fennel and parsley will help to feed the hungry caterpillars. The common milkweed will draw the beautiful monarchs, who will only lay their eggs on milkweed.

Finishing Touches
Wherever you choose to plant, include a few rocks in the design. Butterflies love to rest on rocks, which reflect the heat of the sun. Also include a concave rock or a saucer filled with water where butterflies can “puddle” or drink and can be observed up close. Small wind chimes and gently swaying fountain grasses will add sensory appeal for all visitors.

Cheryl Albin “Dooley” Berry writes for Gulf Coast News in Baldwin County and lives with husband Scott and English mastiff Happy in Spanish Fort.

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