Create a Small Space Butterfly Garden

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Nothing screams, “I’m a gardener with panache!” more than a few butterflies flirting and flitting about. These colorful little creatures will add movement and vibrance to even the smallest garden. Beauty attracts beauty, as such, these little gardens can be as magical and surprising as the creatures they entice.

Milkweed is essential to a butterfly garden if you want to attract monarch butterflies whose numbers are dwindling with fewer milkweed plants available to lay their eggs on. Not only is milkweed beautiful, it is the only plant that monarch caterpillars eat.

Other butterfly favorites include Lavender, Daisy, Cascade Creek California goldenrod, Winnifred Gilman sage, Golden Currant, Hybrid Catmint, California Pipevine and Saint Catherine’s Lace. Many of these plants also attract hummingbirds!

A butterfly garden can be as simple as a single pot or window box or a grouping of several pots and/or containers. It’s important to consult a local nursery professional to identify the kinds of plants that butterflies like best. Butterflies also like fresh water, so filling a tray with gravel and water is another nice feature to include.

Materials List

  1. Container(s)
  2. Potting soil
  3. Plants
  4. Gloves
  5. Trowel
  6. Water container
  7. Gravel


  1. Choose Well: Make sure your container-of-choice is big enough to include several different types of plants and that it has proper drainage. Also, when selecting your container(s), keep in mind that these types of plants do best in full sun.
  2. Shop Around: Select the plants you will be using. Remember butterflies love variety so try to include different colors, textures and sizes of an assortment of different plants. Just for reference, the plants we used in the how-to video include: Butterfly Bush (Buddleia), Daylily (Hemerocallis), Lavender (Lavendula), Sage (Salvia), Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia) and Yarrow (Achillea).
  3. Thriller, Filler & Spiller: Before you do any planting, think through where you will place each plant. Deploy the “Thriller, Filler & Spiller” strategy. The Thriller is the tallest flower in the arrangement and should sit in the center or rear of the container. Fillers are slightly smaller and should be positioned just in front of, or in a circular pattern around the Thriller. Spillers are the smallest flowers that grace the front edges of the container and spill over the edge as they grow.
  4. Dig In: Add planting mix to your container, starting with moist soil and pressing it in firmly, by hand. Begin planting your plants, one by one, making sure you break up the root ball prior to planting, and that the crown of each plant is slightly above the soil. Fill in soil around the roots and when you’re finished planting, water well.
  5. Water and Feed: Water the plants regularly; usually an inch of water a week is sufficient. A couple weeks after planting you can begin to apply an organic fertilizer on a regular basis.

Remember these plants are perennials, so if some may die back in the winter, they will re-bloom come spring. And if you run into any issues, or have questions or concerns, ask a nursery or garden center professional who can help you troubleshoot and keep your garden thriving and full of friendly bug action!


Butterfly Garden