Backyard Butterfly Garden Tips

August 31, 2021

My backyard butterfly garden was created and planted about three weeks ago as I had recently moved into a new home. I have always had butterfly gardens in my yards in my previous houses. So, I was really eager to get one planted to help and do my part to assist with the declining monarch butterfly population as well as to photograph a variety of butterflies in my own backyard.

Milkweed Plants in Your Backyard Butterfly Garden

Always try to plant native plants such as common milkweed, butterfly weed or swamp milkweed plants to provide food for the Monarch butterflies. The milkweed plants are the only host plants for the monarch butterflies. The leaves of the milkweed plants are the only food source for this species of butterfly. Milkweed is very crucial to the life cycle of the monarchs. Without milkweed as their food source the monarchs population decline.

With the current decline in the monarch population, it is essential that milkweed is planted in our backyard butterfly gardens. In my backyard butterfly garden, I planted both butterfly weed and swamp milkweed plants.

Monarch caterpillar feeding on milkweed on a late summer evening in Hampton, Virginia.
Monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexippus) feeding on butterfly weed leaf on a late summer evening in my backyard butterfly garden. The monarch life cycle starts with the eff, then the larva (caterpillar), the chrysalis and then the adult butterfly.

Other Host Plants For Your Backyard Butterfly Garden

Other plants that serve as host plants for other species of butterflies are fennel, dill, parsley, asters and hollyhock. Fennel, dill and parsley are great host plants for Eastern swallowtails. Asters and hollyhock attract butterflies such as the Painted Lady butterfly. In my backyard butterfly garden, I planted some fennel to help attract black swallowtails.

Black swallowtail caterpillar feeding on fennel plant in backyard butterfly garden in Hampton, Virginia.
Full grown larva of Eastern Black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes asterius) feeding on fennel plant in my backyard butterfly garden.

Nectar Plants for Your Backyard Butterfly Garden

One of the most popular type of nectar plants to put in your butterfly garden is the butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii). The butterfly bush is a deciduous shrub with colorful flowers that provides a lot of nectar to variety of butterfly species. They are fast growing and easy to maintain. The butterfly bush blooms from summer to autumn and comes in many different colors. One important thing to remember about butterfly bushes is that they only provide nectar to adult butterflies. Butterfly bushes are not host plants and will not attract butterfly larva (caterpillars).

There are many other types of nectar plants that you can plant in your backyard butterfly garden. Some of these plants include purple coneflower, verbena, common zinnia, sedum and phlox. Purple coneflowers have always been one of my favorite nectar plants. Not only are they beautiful flowers, but they provide great color contrast with butterflies, especially if you are planning to photograph the butterflies in your backyard butterfly garden.

Fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) on Black Knight butterfly bush on a summer evening in a backyard butterfly garden in Hampton, Virginia.
Fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) on Black Knight butterfly bush on a summer evening in my backyard butterfly garden in Hampton, Virginia.

My Backyard Butterfly Garden

Since I have only been in my new house for two months, I wanted to make sure I got a butterfly garden planted in my backyard as soon as possible. About three weeks ago my butterfly garden was planted. I used butterfly weed, swamp milkweed and fennel as my host plants. In addition, I am providing nectar with three butterfly bushes. In my garden, I have the three different varieties: Black Knight Butterfly Bush, Honeycomb Butterfly Bush and the Nanho White Butterfly Bush. Next year I plan to add a couple more hosts plants and maybe some purple coneflowers.

In these past few weeks, I have had 10 monarch caterpillars in the butterfly weed and swamp milkweed plants. So, I feel really good about doing my part in helping the monarch population. In addition to the monarch caterpillars, my fennel has attracted two black swallowtail larva or caterpillars.

My three different colored butterfly bushes have been attracting many species of the skippers and cabbage white butterflies. I have had a monarch and black swallowtail feed from the butterfly bushes as well.

Monarch caterpillar crawling on milkweed plant leaf on a summer evening in Hampton, Virginia.
Monarch caterpillar crawling on milkweed plant leaf on a summer evening in my backyard butterfly garden in Hampton, Virginia. Monarch caterpillars need to consume a lot of food in a relatively short period of time. This allows the monarch caterpillar to store enough food so that they can go through metamorphosis.

Milkweed Beetles

Milkweed beetles are often found on milkweed plants as well. These beetles also eat the leaf, stems and even the milkweed seeds as their food source. However, these beetles are harmless, and often the monarch butterflies and milkweed beetles co-exist on milkweed plants. At least they have been doing so in my backyard butterfly garden. The milkweed beetles have predominately been eating on my swamp milkweed plant that I have in my butterfly garden. I do not look at these milkweed beetles as pests but as part of nature.

Milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) resting on a swamp milkweed leaf on a summer afternoon in a backyard butterfly garden in Hampton, Virginia.
Milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) resting on a swamp milkweed leaf on a summer afternoon in my backyard butterfly garden. These beetles do not harm the milkweed plants, but they will eat the leaves, stems and seeds.

Providing A Water Source for Butterflies

In my garden is a glass bowl birdbath that provides some needed water for the butterflies as well as for birds. The butterflies cannot land on the water and drink. However, I have watched the butterflies dip down in the water to get some moisture similar to a dragonfly. Any type of puddling in your garden will also help to provide needed water to butterflies as well.

One last tip is that, if you are planting a garden to attract butterflies, it is really important to avoid the use of pesticides as they harm the butterflies.

I look forward to seeing how my backyard butterfly garden grows in the coming years and to the different species of butterflies that come to my garden. I have already spent a great deal of time observing and photographing the visitors in my garden in just the past three weeks. My backyard butterfly garden serves a dual purpose for me as a conservationist and as a wildlife photographer.

I hope these tips will help you build and create a beautiful space for the butterflies in your backyard.

Thank you for reading my Field Notes blog, and I hope you will share this post with others.

Let’s protect our wildlife and nature!

All the very best,


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