Building a Southern Butterfly Garden

"If you build it they will come!"

The south, in my case central Florida, is a wonderful place to have a butterfly garden, because various things are blooming most of the year! If you are used to gardening in the north, you have to readjust your orientation to those plants that withstand the heat and humidity of the south!

Monarch in my garden.


Butterfly garden basics: to simply attract butterflies to your garden or yard, you need to have flowers which are rich sources of nectar. But to really encourage butterflies to hang out - and spend much of the year in your yard, you also need to have the host plants upon which they lay their eggs. In other words, you grow plants for the explicit purpose of being eaten! For example, milkweed is the host plant for Monarch butterflies.

Where To Buy Plants? The less you spend on good-quality plants, the more plants you can buy! I buy a lot of plants at my local WalMart and Home Depot stores! Discount stores sometimes will sell plants from their suppliers that may not necessarily grow in your area, so only buy those plants you are sure of.

Zebra butterfly on some butterfly bush. He spent much of the day finding good spots on the passionflower vine to lay eggs.

Zebra longwing on butterfly bush.

Blue-crowned conures at my bird feeder!

Your local nursery may be more expensive, but may have very high-quality plants and is amost always an excellent source of information and encouragement! Our local nursery (see below) sponsors educational programs and even has a butterfly house! A good on-line source of perennials from whom I purchased many plants in the past when I lived in a remote area is Bluestone Perennials.

Gardening in semi-tropical Florida is a trip! Above are blue-crowned conures at my bird feeder! Contoversy rages over whether this flock, which now numbers about 45, were originally escapees or if they were blown north from the Carribean during a hurricane.

Suggested Nectar-Rich Plants:

Any fragrant, nectar-rich plants will attract butterflies. Those with red/orange deep-throated flowers (such as coral honeysuckle) may also attract hummingbirds.

  • Red Pentas
  • Lantana
  • Porterweed
  • Salvia
  • Milkweed (butterfly weed)
  • Buddleia (butterfly bush) seen here.
Skipper on butterfly bush.

Suggested Host Plants

Dove nesting in arbor with passionflower and honeysuckle.

Remember - these plants are here to be eaten! To create a butterfly-friendly environment you cannot spray insecticide in your garden! When you see these plants being eaten, it is a good thing! If you do see a plant being completely devoured, you may want to pick off some of the caterpillars, because once their food source is gone, they will die if it is not time to pupate - they do not have alternative food sources. Most plants, once established, will bounce back after being defoliated by caterpillars.

The sad "circle of life" - Murphy's Law and the Butterfly Garden....

My kids and I were ecstatic to find our overgrowth of fennel plants to be filled with the caterpillars of the eastern black swallowtail butterfly! They were big, fat, and healthy, and we anticipated a big crop of butterflies! In one day a pair of cardinals arrived and ate every last caterpillar! But when I tried growing vegetables, I couldn't keep the bugs away! Next year we will put nets over the fennel after the caterpillars show up!

Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar on our fennel


Host Plant:

Atala coontie (Zamia floridana)
Buckey snapdragon
Giant Swallowtail citrus trees
Gulf Frittilary passion vine (sunny spot)
Julia passion vine
Monarch milkweeds
Painted Lady mallows
Queen milkweeds
Sulphurs cassia species
Black Swallowtail carrots, dill, fennel, parsley
Pipevine Swallowtail pipevines
Palamedes Swallowtail red bay
Tiger Swallowtail willows
Zebra Longwing passion vine (shady spot)

This list courtesy of Rockledge Gardens, Rockledge, Florida


White Peacock butterfly on porterweed.

White Peacock Butterfly


Fritillary on butterfly bush.

Bees are also attracted to nectar sources! My garden is full of little green-headed bees! Here on Mexican Bell.


One of my gardens.

One of my butterfly gardens.

An excellent book is: "Florida Butterfly Gardening" which you can order by clicking here from!

Florida Butterfly Gardening

A less expensive book which is a good atlas of Florida butterflies, is "Florida's Fabulous Butterflies"

Florida's Fablous Butterflies

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