Tips for Creating a Butterfly Habitat

There are four elements that are crucial for any wildlife habitat: Cover, Food, Water & Places to Raise Young. The following are suggestions for creating an attractive and successful butterfly habitat.


When creating habitat for wildlife, it is always important to provide plants of varying height for cover. In the case of butterflies, wind is an additional issue to take into consideration when providing cover. The prevailing wind in the U.S. is typically from the northwest, so planting the tallest plants at the northern perimeter of the garden and the shortest plants at the southern edge provides cover. A house or other structure can also act as a windbreak, as can a pile of stones or logs. In fact, the logs can also provide habitat to some species of butterflies that hide beneath loose bark. Visit: Snags & Logs.


When choosing plants for your butterfly garden, there are several things to take into consideration. Like many birds, butterflies are attracted to certain colors of plants more than others. It seems that butterflies prefer the following colors: purple, pink, yellow, white, blue and red (in that order). In addition to choosing plants of these colors, try to also offer a constant source of blooming nectar plants spring through fall; as one plant’s blooms are tapering off, another will just be starting to blossom. Be sure to offer a combination of host and nectar plants—nectar plants will attract butterflies, host plants will keep them there. (A regional list of food and cover plants is included below.) Spacing is important too: Plant flowering plants in clusters or groups, as they would typically grow naturally. Groups of flowers are easier for butterflies to spot than single plants. Visit: Chesapeake Region Native Plants.


Butterflies need water for a variety of reasons. Humidity helps them emerge from eggs, caterpillars nibble on the stems of moist plants, and adults actively seek out water. Visit our Water for Wildlife page for tips on providing appropriate water sources for butterflies.

Native Butterfly Host & Food Plants: Mid-Atlantic

These are just some of the native plants in our region that attract and support butterflies. Visit our Chesapeake Region Native Plants page for in-depth information on choosing and sourcing appropriate native plants, as well as size, condition requirements, bloom times and more. Please visit our Gardening for Wildlife page for instructions and resources for creating habitats for butterflies, birds, bees & other pollinators (including garden templates).

  • Bee Balm
  • Blue Mistflower
  • Blue Phlox
  • Blue Vervain
  • Butterfly Milkweed (aka Butterflyweed)
  • Butterfly Pea (vine)
  • Buttonbush
  • Columbine
  • Common Blue Violet
  • Common Milkweed (supports entire lifecycle of monarchs - spreads)
  • Fall Phlox
  • Flame azalea
  • Frost Aster
  • Goldenrods
  • Greenheaded coneflower
  • Hyssop Thoroughwort
  • Iron weed
  • Joe-pye weed
  • Lupine
  • Maryland Golden Aster
  • Moss Phlox
  • New England Aster (beautiful fall bloomer!)
  • New York Ironweed
  • Orange coneflower
  • Pipevine (vine)
  • Pink Fuzzybean (vine)
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Spicebush
  • Sweet Pepperbush
A monarch butterfly feeds on the nectar of a common milkweed plant