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Invite Butterflies to Your Yard!

These delicate creatures will enchant you with their graceful movements.

Invite butterflies
Figs. 1-3. A Canadian tiger swallowtail feeds on nectar of lantana; a red admiral casts its shadow while basking on rocks; swallowtails gather minerals from soil.
Would you like to add some excitement to your garden? Invite butterflies! Their delicate wings and fluttering movements are absolutely enchanting.

It’s easy to attract butterflies—simply give them what they want. In the fairy tale The Butterfly, the winged creature summed up its needs as follows: “Just living is not enough … one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower.”

We can do that!

Start with sunshine. Select a sunny site that is sheltered from our harsh prairie winds. 

Butterflies love to sunbathe. Create a warm resting spot for them by placing dark rocks in the garden (Fig. 2). Butterflies will enjoy the freedom of flight once their bodies have warmed to 85 to 100 degrees.

Give them a little flower. Better yet, give them lots of little flowers. Select flowers that make nectar available from spring through fall. Butterflies are attracted to purple, orange, yellow, red and dark pink flowers. Popular choices include blazing star, butterfly bush, phlox, cleome, coneflower, sedum, goldenrod, cosmos, dianthus and zinnia. Don’t forget milkweed—it’s essential for monarchs.

Butterflies need water. Puddles of water provide the hydration and minerals needed for good health and successful breeding (Fig. 3). 

Limit pesticide use to a minimum. Chemicals that kill insect pests will kill butterflies. Spray pests with insecticidal soap. Soaps will not leave residues that threaten butterflies.

Butterflies need a home to raise their young. Grow plants for butterflies to lay eggs upon and for the emerging caterpillars to eat. Popular choices include birch, butterfly bush, oak, hackberry, willow, dill, parsley and hollyhock. 

For more information, download the NDSU publication Butterfly Gardening in North Dakota.


Written by , Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report, June 20, 2016. Photos were made available under Creative Commons licenses specified by the photographers: Martin LaBar, ***Images***, Vicki DeLoach.

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