Butterflies and Moths of North America

collecting and sharing data about Lepidoptera

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How can I attract monarchs or other butterflies to my yard? How do I start a butterfly garden?

To attract butterflies to your garden, you need to find out the answers to three questions:

  1. What butterflies are native to my area?
  2. What plants are used by butterflies use to lay eggs and by caterpillars as food?
  3. What plants provide nectar to adult butterflies?

Here are some different methods to get started:

  • Go to the Native Plants Database and view the Special Collection entitled "Butterflies and Moths of North America." There, you can narrow your search to a particular state or other factor. The results show selected native species that are good host plants for caterpillars and/or adult butterflies and moths.
  • Find out which butterflies live in your area by going to the checklist and select your region to see a list of species that reside there. Then, look at the caterpillar host plants and adult host plants (nectar plants) that are preferred by species you wish to attract. Include these plants in your garden, and make sure to select plants that bloom at different times. You will ensure butterfly habitat is available all season. You can find additional hostplant information in HOSTS, the Caterpillar Hostplant Database.
  • Gardens With Wings is an excellent resource. By entering your zip code, you will be directed to lists of species that you can attract to your yard. Information about host plants is extensive and useful.
  • For specific information on attracting monarchs, go to Monarch Watch. The butterfly gardening section offers tips on how to start a garden, lists of larval host plants, and descriptions of good nectar sources for adult butterflies and moths. If you are particularly interested in attracting monarch butterflies, then visit Monarch Watch's Monarch Waystation program. There, you can find out more about why and how to attract monarchs, and you can order a milkweed seed kit.
  • Get a copy of the The Xerces Society's extensive book titled Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies.
  • The Pollinator Partnership has created Ecoregional Planting Guides that will help you determine which plants to select for your region.
  • For more information on butterfly gardening, read the excellent articles available at The Butterfly Site.

Alternatively, if you do not want to use a garden, you can bring butterflies and moths to your yard through baiting techniques. See The Butterfly and Moth Cookbook for ideas and insights.