butterfly garden

Want butterflies to visit you and fill your school garden with color? If you pay attention to plant selection and other basic considerations, you can keep these wonderful creatures with you every day. Not only will they contribute to pollination, but they will also flutter around your flowers, giving you a positive vibe at all times!

In this article we tell you how to establish a butterfly garden at school.

What are butterfly gardens called?

Butterfly gardens spaces are also known as butterfly houses, conservatories, or lepidopterariums. These spaces are specifically designed to breed butterflies.

How to plant a butterfly garden

papillon sur champignon

You’ve already visualized your beautiful butterfly school garden but you’re not really quite sure how to do it? Don’t worry! Here are the steps you need to follow:

1. Determine where you want your butterfly garden (indoors or outdoors)

Depending on where you live, it may be preferable to start your butterfly garden indoors or outdoors. At Vireo, we specialize in indoor hydroponic vegetable gardens and we helped a school experiment with butterflies. 

The school grew milkweed flowers for the monarchs in their indoor vegetable garden and then replanted them outside when the time came. The flowers grow longer and with the cold it’s impossible to grow them outdoors in Quebec until at least May-June. The Vireo garden allows you to start your flower seedlings indoors (while it’s still frozen outside) and then transplant them when the outside is more lenient.

Plus, with a garden that has a capacity of 84 plants that makes a fair amount of flowers, so you can separate them in several gardens or scatter them in different places in nature that will be suitable for butterflies.

Since it’s possible to interweave the use of the interior and the exterior, it can be interesting to grow the shrubs outdoors and use the interior for the production of flowers and replanting when the time is right. It allows the students to see the flowers growing, because often in the summer, they cannot see them because school is over. It allows them to enjoy the project for longer!

2. Find out what species of butterflies live in your area  

Not all butterflies are the same, each species has different characteristics, so you will have to investigate which butterfly species live in your area. You also have to bear in mind that adult butterflies usually obtain most of their food from the nectar produced by certain flowers. Although certain species of butterflies prefer specific plants, they generally feed on any nectar-producing plant and especially love plants with bright flowers.

Among the plants that produce nectar and serve as a food source for butterflies we can find marigolds or milkweed, zinnias, asters and cosmos, among others.

3. Choose plants where butterflies can lay eggs

Once you have identified the butterfly species that live in your area, you should place the indicated plants where they can lay eggs. Monarch butterflies often lay eggs on milkweed because it is the only plant that monarch caterpillars live on. In contrast, black swallowtail butterflies prefer to lay eggs on carrot, fennel or parsley plants.

4. Put a tray with fruits in the garden 

If you want to nurture the butterflies, you can place a small plate with sliced fruit, including the pulp and rind. Butterflies like the red-spotted purple and admirals enjoy sliced oranges, pears, apples or melons. 

Also, if the plants in the garden have not yet bloomed, you can add a butterfly feeder. You will need to fill the feeder with nectar and hang it on a tree near the garden. You can also make butterfly food by mixing a little sugar with a little water. You should bring the mixture to a boil and wait for it to cool before adding it to the feeder. You will quickly see how butterflies cannot resist such a delight.

If you consider that the process is a bit complex and you want to make sure you have the best possible result, you can also leave the work to experts. If you need help to create custom garden projects like a beautiful butterfly garden, learn more about our turnkey services. Our packages include: 

  • All the necessary material (indoor garden, seeds, maintenance equipment, cleaning solutions, substrates, a guide to cultivars, etc.)
  • Support from A to Z (you receive all the necessary support – technically, agronomically and pedagogically, to ensure the success of your project!)
  • Access to a digital platform
  • Pedagogy

When should you plant a butterfly garden?

 To establish a beautiful school butterfly garden, you have to plant species of plants that bloom in spring, summer or fall. The best time to plant a butterfly garden is generally early spring. However, if you want students to benefit from the garden for as long as possible, it’s possible to start the garden indoors earlier in the season and then replant outdoors when the time comes.

What plants do you need for a butterfly garden?

Butterly on flower

Butterfly host plants are very important when creating an educational garden. You must provide a place for butterflies to lay eggs and provide food for emerging caterpillars. Get ready to watch what the host plant eats.  

Because small caterpillars cannot walk far to find their own food, female butterflies only locate and lay eggs on plants where the caterpillar can use it for food. Most species of caterpillars pay special attention to the types of plants they can eat. If the egg is not placed on the correct plant, the caterpillar that hatches from the egg will not survive.

Many gardeners don’t like to see plants chewed by insects in the garden. To avoid this, you may want to place the butterfly host plant in an area that is less visible but still accessible to the butterfly nectar plant. If you do not have host plants, you will have less butterflies in your garden.  

Many native trees and other plants found in and around your garden are host plants for caterpillars. A variety of plants can be grown in the butterfly garden and these plants are excellent host plants. For those interested in choosing native plants for their garden, a native plant database will be a good resource.  

In your butterfly garden plan, there are two types of plants that should be considered: nectar plants and host plants. Nectar plants are plants that butterflies like to eat, while host plants are plants that caterpillars like to eat and where butterflies lay eggs on.  

You may also need to add some decorations to the butterfly garden, which will also help attract butterflies, such as one or two butterfly houses and some butterfly feeders. Decorating the garden is a great activity to do with your students to create a garden in their image! 

Some butterflies like different nectar plants and some eat more than one kind. Make sure to provide several different types of nectar plants in your butterfly garden. These nectar plants have different flowering stages and are an ideal way to attract butterflies throughout the season. Make sure you have several types of flowers that bloom in late summer and early fall, as this is when the butterfly population is the largest.

When you grow a butterfly garden, make sure to place the tallest plants and flowers, such as roses, after the dwarf plants and flowers. Most people like to start with a large butterfly bush, around the corner and work around it with smaller plants and flowers. If adult butterflies find plants where they can lay eggs on, they will visit you more frequently and longer.

Young caterpillars feed on host plants until they form cocoons. Caterpillars eat a lot of things and make your plants look shattered, but this is really necessary for their survival. If you don’t want to see the eaten plants, you can plant them in the center or back of the butterfly garden.

What flowers attract butterflies? 

Wildflowers, cultivated flowers (both perennial and annual) and even some shrubs are a perfect choice to attract butterflies to your garden.

These flowers/shrubs are very useful to attract butterflies:

  • Lilac shrubs
  • California privet
  • Henna Blueberry shrubs
  • Butterfly grass
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Daisies
  • Bergamot
  • Cosmos
  • Apocynum
  • Azaleas

What are the pros of having a butterfly garden at school?

Butterflies have a fascinating life cycle and they are very interesting creatures. Butterfly gardens at school teach children about many interesting aspects of nature, like plants and insects. The transition from eggs to caterpillars to butterflies is one of the natural wonders of the world.

Students can also learn about different types of flora and fauna. A butterfly garden can also serve as a worship space where children can feel connected with nature and have the opportunity to meditate and be at peace. Having an indoor vegetable garden which complements the outdoor one allows the students to experience a connection with nature all year long, whether in the summer or winter.

How do butterflies behave in the garden?

Now that you know the flowers/shrubs that attract these beautiful creatures, you can also observe how butterflies behave as they inhabit their natural habitats. Did you know that butterflies are cold-blooded creatures? This is one of the main reasons why you sometimes see butterflies basking in the sun. Butterflies fly in their best conditions when the temperature is between 15 and 20ºC.

The reason for this is that they don’t have to stop to warm up. If the wind is cold, you will often see many butterflies perching on flowers or leaves in the sun. You will usually see them lying flat and looking up at the sun to get the best exposure.