Getting Ready for Butterflies - U of I Extension

News Release

Getting Ready for Butterflies

This article was originally published on March 28, 2018 and expired on May 1, 2018. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

In planning for your habitat, I stated that using native plant species is your best bet.  And no matter what type of habitat you are trying to create, these natives are going to be the most successful and attract the widest variety of wildlife.  If you are interested in attracting butterflies this is particularly true.  Native butterflies (whether here in Illinois or elsewhere) have evolved with the plants that were here originally.  And like I said previously native plants are the host to more butterfly species than non-native plants.  So as you plan your garden, here are some tips for attracting butterflies.

Plant Native Plants -- Native plants and native butterflies have co-evolved to be dependent on each other.  This means that native flowers are going to attract more butterfly species than a non-native species.  These flowers require the butterflies for pollination.  If you are planting perennials or are planning plants that you would like to self-seed for next year you will need the pollinators.  Not to mention that the native plants are going to survive the many weather extremes better than a non-native plant.

Plant Color and Type is Very Important -- Both adult butterflies and caterpillars are very specific in what they eat.  If you think about Monarch Butterflies, the caterpillars only eat plants from the Milk Weed family.  So plant a variety of species and a number of colors of flowers in reds, yellows, oranges, pinks, and purples.  Also, choose plants that will provide a food source for both caterpillars and adult butterflies.

Plant the Nectar Sources in Full Sun -- Generally speaking, butterflies feed in full sun.  So plant the nectar flowers in full sun to attract the butterflies to your butterfly garden.  These flowers should receive full sun from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.

Choose a Variety of Plants that Boom all Growing Season -- This tip is a little more intuitive.  The butterfly requires food throughout the adult stage of the life cycle.  Without the flowers, you will not attract the butterflies all season.  As the flowers stop blooming, the food source is no longer available.

Avoid Insecticides - Insecticides are indiscriminate killers.  They kill both the good insects (including butterflies) as well as the bad ones.

Have Basking Areas - Flowers and plants are not the only things that butterflies need.  Butterflies need areas to bask and rest in the sun.  They need areas to sit and warm their wings for flight.  So have some flat stones or other areas in full sun for them to bask.

Butterflies Need Water Too - This is not water the way we think of water but they need a source of moisture and mineral content.  Have pans of sand that are kept moist for the butterflies to get moisture.  You can bury the pans in the ground to allow them to get the moisture from the damp sand.

Don't Forget the Trees -- Many butterflies need trees as well as flowers.  Some species of butterflies require trees for one or more stages of their life.

If you have any questions about attracting butterflies, other pollinators, or natural resources contact Jason Haupt (

Source: Jason Haupt, Extension Educator, Energy and Environmental Stewardship,

Pull date: May 1, 2018