Gardening in Texas: Part 5 – Growing a Butterfly Garden

By Ebony Porter, May 16, 2016, Green

Welcome to Gardening In Texas from Bounce Energy! We hope this series will steer you in the direction of planting a green Texas garden with a eco-friendly lifestyle in mind. We’ll discuss shaping a garden that uses less water, grows in harmony with animal and insect life in the area, and provides you with more than just a pretty view.

Create Your Own Butterfly Garden

Gardening in Texas: Part 5 - Growing a Butterfly Garden

Ask any gardener why they garden, and you’ll get as many different responses as there are plants in the world.

With a little know-how, gardening can lead to growing your own food, growing a garden full of medicinal herbs, or turning a drab space into something spectacular . You can also transform your balcony into a green sanctuary by gardening in pots for those of you living in apartments.

But what if you wanted to take your garden to the next level?

Consider creating a butterfly garden by introducing plants that butterflies love. Butterflies are so beautiful to watch, and they make our ecosystem healthier by pollinating flowering vegetables and fruits, not to mention they bring a level of animation to your garden.

Texas is home to more than one hundred species of butterflies. If you live in a city, providing plants where butterflies can lay their eggs is crucial to their survival. A garden specifically designed with butterflies in mind assures that the butterfly, during its migration, will find plenty of nectar and safe places to lay eggs.

How Do I Start a Butterfly Garden?

Gardening in Texas: Part 5 - Growing a Butterfly Garden

Monarch Butterfly. Image courtesy of Ebony Porter.

You don’t have to go overboard when it comes to building a butterfly garden. In fact, many of the species we have recommended previously in this Texas Gardening Series are ones you would plant in a butterfly garden. Even just planting a few of the bushes and flowers recommended below will assist in your garden attracting these fluttering beauties.

Host Plants

And it all starts with host plants. Butterflies need these to safely lay their eggs. The females will typically lay them beneath the leaves away from the prying eyes of predators. The host plant also provides a food source for the emerging caterpillars.


Gardening in Texas: Part 5 - Growing a Butterfly Garden

Milkweed is the only host plant for the Monarch butterfly. Monarch conservation programs always tout the milkweed, and some organizations will even give you free plants if your garden qualifies as a haven for the butterfly.

The milkweed has a waxy looking coral red and marigold yellow flower. While it can be grown from seed, most nurseries will sell it to you in full-grown form. The wonderful thing about the milkweed is that it spread seeds readily, so you’ll find milkweed saplings growing in other areas of your yard.

Keep in mind the hungry little caterpillars that become Monarch butterflies will eat the leaves to nothing. This is normal and after time, more leaves will emerge on the stems. Plant milkweed, and let the Monarchs work their magic.

It’s amazing how the monarch finds the plant, but year after year, I find them in my garden, and I enjoy their beauty.

Fennel and Parsley

Gardening in Texas: Part 5 - Growing a Butterfly Garden

The Black Swallowtail butterfly loves to lay its eggs on either of these herbs, and when the caterpillar hatches, it devours them rapidly. I’ve often found up to 10 caterpillars on one bush! So if you are a seasonal grower of veggies, meaning you rotate your patch throughout the year, be sure and plant extra fennel and parsley for the Swallowtail. It can sometimes be discouraging to watch your herbs get eaten to smitherines! But remember, it’s for a good cause.

Hackberry Trees

Trees are like a hotel for wildlife and beneficial insects. If your home already has a hackberry, then you can rest assured that a number of butterflies will use your tree as a host plant. It is a fast grower and as a member of the elm family, will attract the Question Mark Butterfly, the Mourning Cloak and more.

If you don’t already own one, consider planting one in a location where you need privacy, but where the tree will get a full day’s worth of sun.

Nectar Plants

There’s no sense in providing a host plant without also providing nectar. That would be like having a hotel that doesn’t serve coffee, breakfast, or room service!

It’s important that butterflies stay hydrated and are provided with nectar to drink. This is especially important for migratory butterflies. They need energy to sustain their long flights. A variety of Texas natives provide both a colorful flower while giving the butterfly what they need.


The Lantana comes in a rainbow of colors and is extremely drought-tolerant. They are not fussy about soil but do love full sun. Get it established, and watch the flowers appear. Soon, a variety of butterflies will find their way, too.

The Monarch, the Black Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purple, Gulf Fritillary, Zebra Longwing, and the Pipevine Swallowtail are just a few butterflies that love to feed on this plant.

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)

Gardening in Texas: Part 5 - Growing a Butterfly Garden

Purple Coneflower. Image courtesy of Ebony Porter.

I admit it’s taken me years to get Purple Coneflower, also known as Echinacea, growing in my garden from seed. But this year, it’s been a success, and their animated orange and purple spires are standing tall in my garden. The Purple Coneflower is a hardy plan that will bloom for weeks at a time. Simply deadhead them once they start to look shabby, and new ones will emerge.

Monarchs and other flying friends like the American Lady, Giant Swallowtail, Red Admiral, and Painted Lady love the nectar found in the Purple Coneflower.

Mexican Sunflowers

Gardening in Texas: Part 5 - Growing a Butterfly Garden

Mexican Sunflower. Image courtesy of Ebony Porter.

These sunflowers are easy to grow and require little care once established. Their electric orange flowers attract a variety of butterflies including the Monarch, Painted Lady and Spicebush Swallowtails, to name a few. Like many of these other flowers, they also attract bumble bees and hummingbirds. Buy the “Torch” variety as opposed to the dwarf.


Salvias are truly one of my favorites because they are prolific, reseed easily, and attract so many beneficial insects – including butterflies. From red and purple to black and cobalt blue in color, salvias are Texas natives, and they don’t put a strain on you in terms of demand for water once they are established. Midnight Mexican Bush Sage Salvia and Black Salvia are two of my favorites.

What Should I Know About Growing a Butterfly Garden?

Here are a few extra tips to make your butterfly garden a success!

Gardening in Texas: Part 5 - Growing a Butterfly Garden

Let your garden grow wild and pesticide-free! Image courtesy of Ebony Porter.

1) Avoid using pesticides at all costs in your gardens. They are detrimental to butterflies. The idea is to attract them, not repel them.

2) Butterflies love to hang out in mud puddles. You will especially find the male butterflies gathering in a mud puddle, called “puddling,” as a way to recharge on important nutrients and salt. Butterflies don’t like ponds and bird baths. Find a shallow dish that is durable for the outdoors such as a terracotta plant saucer, and bury it in the ground at level with the soil. Fill with sand and gravel, and keep moist with water. In warm weather, the moisture will evaporate daily, so keep it wet as often as you can. You can also add stale beer, salt, or old pieces of fruit to the puddling station – it’s the salt and the nutrients the butterflies are after more than the water.

3) Butterflies prefer a messy garden that isn’t overly groomed. Think wild! They prefer a space where leaves are rotting and piled up along with lots of stick debris.

4) Live in an apartment? No problem! Butterflies well…. fly! They will find their way up to your balcony if you plant a few host and nectar plants for them to find.

Gardening in Texas: Part 5 - Growing a Butterfly Garden

5) Don’t throw out that old banana! Give it to the butterflies. Not only do they love nectar from flowering plants, but super ripe fruit draws them in and provides them with needed nectar.

6) Pick up the laminated butterfly guide by Quick Reference Publishing, Inc. It’s durable and great for the kids to hold onto while identifying the butterflies that come to your garden. It includes photos of the butterflies, plus images of their caterpillars. It also shares when you’ll find them in your garden and what their host plants are.

Happy gardening!

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Born in Australia, Ebony has been in Texas long enough to consider herself a Texan-Aussie. Ebony has been writing for magazines, newspapers, and blogs, for more than 10 years. When she's not writing she's building quilts, growing her own food, or camping with her family somewhere far from the sounds of the city.

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