Create Butterfly Gardens

Blossoms and Butterflies.

It’s easy to create a new butterfly garden, or convert your existing garden into a private retreat for native Colorado butterflies. Butterflies need plants during each stage of their life cycle—egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult (butterfly). A butterfly garden that includes plants for the entire life cycle will attract the greatest number and variety of native butterflies.

There are three essential parts of a butterfly garden: Nectar sources, host plants and shelters.

Nectar Sources

Many flowers provide a good source of food (nectar) to attract adult butterflies. When the butterfly detects something sweet, it will extend its coiled proboscis and probe into the flower for nectar.

Choosing Plants for Your Garden

  • Choose a variety of plants for your butterfly garden that will bloom at different times of the season to make your garden more attractive to a wider assortment of butterflies.
  • Plant the flowers in clusters of each species. Clusters of flowers are easier for the butterflies to locate than individual plants.
  • Include several flower colors and vary the heights of your flowers.
  • Select a mixture of annuals, perennials and biennials. That way, you can experiment with different flower combinations each year as you discover which species work best for your area.
  • Try to find older (heirloom) flower varieties. Modern hybrids have been bred for showy flowers not for better nectar production.

Host Plants

Most caterpillars are specific about the plants (hosts) they feed on, and female butterflies will only lay their eggs on caterpillar food plants. Be sure to provide a variety of caterpillar food plants to meet the needs of the species in your area. Some plants, like milkweed and alfalfa, provide both nectar and food for many caterpillar species.


In addition to providing nectar for the adult and host plants for the caterpillars, it is important to include sources of shelter in your garden. Tall trees can provide a place for butterflies to roost at night or during cloudy weather. Willows, ash, and chokecherry are also caterpillar food for some species.

More Tips

  • Plant your garden in a sunny place to increase blooming.
  • Provide rocks so butterflies can bask in the sun. Butterflies bask to heat up their wing muscles for flight.
  • Provide a water source for the butterflies; small fountains or water dishes work well.
  • Don’t use pesticides in or near your garden. Pesticides will kill insects, and butterflies are insects.

Plants to Attract Butterflies – download or view this PDF.