We are big fans of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Butterflies and Blooms exhibit. To celebrate its opening this weekend (weather permitting, of course!), the Chicago Botanic Garden is sharing with us how you can create a Butterfly & Pollinator Friendly garden right in your backyard. Last summer, we relocated some hostas and built our butterfly garden, and it is my favorite thing in our yard. My kids get so excited when they see butterflies fluttering around. Of course, they are none too excited about the bees, but I am because bees are so important!
How to Plant a Butterfly Garden
Many bird, butterfly, and bee-friendly plants can be grown and do really well in our area, and kids love to help build a butterfly garden. A successful butterfly garden should support the entire life cycle of the insect by providing the essential elements for each stage of life. Your garden will need host plants for laying eggs, shelter plants for caterpillars, and various nectar plants providing bloom. A large rock or two, especially a flatter one that may hold water, is the perfect stopping place for a butterfly to sun themselves.
Suggested Plants for a Butterfly Garden
Purple Coneflower attracts butterflies and other beneficial insects. It’s a popular native Midwestern plant, easily grown and drought tolerant. It’s a late summer bloomer that prefers full sun and well drained soil.
Pale Purple Coneflower
Pale Purple Coneflower will attract bees and butterflies and is resistant to deer. It blooms slightly earlier than the purple coneflower, starting in June. It needs full sun or partial share and moderate soil.
Prairie Blazing Star
The upright Prairie Blazing Star will attract butterflies and bees with purple flower heads blooming in late summer. As with the others, it needs full sun to partial shade.
Beebalm or Wild Bergamot
This native plant is a butterfly and hummingbird attractant but not so beloved by deer. Grow in full sun in moderately fertile, moist soils, with space between this plant and others to decrease the incidence of powdery mildew. I have a large patch of Bee Balm in my front yard, and once it blooms, the hummingbirds prefer it to everything else – including the feeder!
A host plant for the iconic monarch butterfly, the sun-loving common milkweed blooms from late June until August. Flowers produce a warty pod that disperses seeds via silky white tufts carried by the wind. The thick stems are covered with large oval leaves filled with milky sap that is part of the monarch butterfly’s survival strategy. When monarch caterpillars feed on the leaves, they become toxic and are avoided by birds. Butterflies love common milkweed, but deer avoid it. The plant can become aggressive in a small planting. A less aggressive substitute would be Prairie Milkweed.
Another Monarch-friendly addition to your butterfly garden, butterfly weed grows up to 3 feet tall and produces globes of bright orange flowers from May through October. Seedpods have ornamental appeal.
Swamp milkweed can tolerate moist soil conditions and is a good option for wetter sites. Pink and white flowers bloom in July and August on stems 3 to 5 feet tall.
Joe-Pye weeds (Eutrochium spp.)
These easy-to-grow perennial titans range up to nearly 8 feet tall and produce large compound flowers that bloom mid-summer to early fall.
Find more information and plant ideas on the Chicago Botanic Garden Butterfly Gardening Page.
For inspiration be sure to walk through the Butterflies and Blooms exhibit. The outdoor exhibit houses up to 500 live butterflies in a 2,800 square-foot-mesh enclosure on the learning campus.
Things to keep in mind before you go:
- Tickets are required.
- Strollers are not allowed in the exhibit.
- There are many rocks that are very enticing to toddlers; climbing, standing, or sitting on them is not allowed (you don’t want to squish a butterfly!)
- While enclosed is not weatherproof and will be closed on occasion due to rain or inclement weather.
Butterflies & Blooms is made possible through the generous support of The Grainger Foundation, Lake Forest, Illinois. Butterflies and Blooms is open daily from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. through September 6.
The Chicago Botanic Gardens is open daily. Admission is free but parking is $25 per vehicle
Chicago Botanic Garden
1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe, IL 60022
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Disclosure: My family received membership in exchange for updating readers on the family friendly happenings at the garden on a regular basis. All thoughts and opinions are my own and no other compensation was received.