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Plant A Butterfly Garden

Location, location, location!

A sunny location is best for a butterfly garden, at least 5-6 hours of sun/day: butterflies need warmth and plants bloom more in the sun. It also should be an area protected from the wind. A good way to add plants to your garden is to group them into a garden bed. This unifies your plants and make it visually appealing. Grouping plants also makes it easier for butterflies to go from one plant to another and for the gardener to care for them.

Where do you want your garden bed? Maybe there is an area in your garden that feels empty, or you want to attract butterflies by a window, or you want to change things around and make your garden more visually attractive.

Choose your plants and create a design

How would you like your garden bed to look? Here are some design suggestions:

  • Linear (along a wall, fence, or walkway)
  • Corner (where walls, fences, or paths meet)
  • Three open side (against a section of a wall, fence, or walkway)
  • Island (center area)


Below there are links to garden bed designs with suggested plants:
The following links are examples of existing gardens at Quinta Mazatlan:

Chose your plants and create a design.

Descriptions of the plants are on the table below:

(Chart Top LRGV Native Monarch Plants)

Choose plants that will attract butterflies in all stages of their life cycle. The best garden plan includes a combination of both HOST PLANTS (caterpillars feed on the leaves) and NECTAR FLOWERS (butterflies feed on the nectar in the flowers). Every species of butterfly has its specific plant preference; study the species most likely to be found in your region. Highly recommend native plants as they are usually easier to care for and are designed for the valley temperatures. Remember to use lots of compost to create a rich soil for your plants. As you near summer add sufficient mulch to prevent water loss.

Plant taller plants in the back of a border or in the middle of a circular butterfly garden so it’s easier to see the butterflies in your garden. The taller plants will help shelter the butterflies from the wind. Remember to leave room in your garden as the plants will grow, don’t overcrowd your garden. It’s best to place several plants in a group so the butterfly can find them easily. Grouping the plants also helps the gardener care for the plants.

Prepare Bed for Planting
  • Mark your garden where the bed is going to be located. Remember the bed needs to be big enough to accommodate your plants at mature size. You can use a variety of items to mark off areas such as hoses, string and pegs, chalk, spray etc.
  • Remove plants you do not want to include in your new bed. This could mean digging out shrubs, trees, annuals, or perennials, to transplant or discard. In many cases, it means to remove grass and weeds. There are different method to do this. One method is to spray Round Up herbicide following its instructions. Remember that Round Up is a non-selective herbicide, which means it can kill any plant it comes into contact (not just grass and weeds) including those you wish to leave in the bed or nearby. It is best not to apply on a windy day.

A second option, non-chemical, to get rid of grass is cover the area and wait until the grass is gone; this is more time consuming. For this, you can either use a thick layer of newspaper (about 10 pages thick) and mulch on top followed by watering (so they don't fly away), or you can use sheets of black plastic and rocks, bricks, etc. to hold it down. If you use newspaper, they can be left at planting time, as they decompose and become part of the soil; the black plastic needs to be removed. Wait till the grass weeds are dead (check after a week, and then every couple of days) before planting your new bed.

A third method, also non-chemical, is to dig out the area to at least 6 in. deep to remove existing grass and weed; this is also more time consuming. All roots have to be removed; otherwise the grass or weeds can come back. If you have St. Augustine grass, you can try digging the sod out and using it elsewhere.

  • Till the soil once the area is clear of non-wanted plants. This means to turn and work the soil to loosen it to a depth of about 6-10 in. As you till, add a 2-4 in. layer of compost to enrich it with nutrients and to improve drainage.
  • Smooth out the surface with a rake.
  • You may decide to add edging to your bed. There is a wide variety of edges available, from stones, wood, and bricks to metals; the purpose is to keep grass from inching back to the planting bed, and to define the area.
  • Place pots according to design.
Plant the plants!

The season to plant in the Valley goes from about September/October to around March/April, when temperatures are mild. Planting in the middle of the summer stresses plants and the gardener doing the work! Refer to flyer on Gardening in the LRGV for more information.

  • Dig holes at least twice the size of the pots you are planting there. It shouldn't be too hard, since the soil is tilled.
  • Pull out plant carefully from pot. For that, "massage" pot with your fingers to loosen up root ball. Place one hand flat on top of pot with plant stem between two fingers, then turn pot upside down while still having hand placed there, and with the second hand remove pot.
  • Once plant is out, loosen up the root ball (soil and roots) with fingers. If the roots are already growing in a circle (due to having been in a tight container), break up the circle. This is to stimulate root growth and help plant establisment.
  • Plant in soil at the same level as the rest of the bed or a few inches higher, and never below the soil, as the water collecting there can cause root disease. Add some more compost to holes as you are planting. Pat carefully around the plant to eliminate big air holes.
  • You may decide to add a root stimulator, which is a liquid chemical added. Follow the instructions on the label.
  • Continue on with all the plants.
  • Mulch your bed generously 2-3 in. deep to prevent weeds growing and to reduce watering.
  • Water
  • Enjoy your new Butterfly Garden Bed!
Water and Rocks

You will often see butterflies around a puddle of water where they get essential minerals. You can form a shallow bowl in the ground, cover the bottom with plastic and fill with wet sand. You can also use a shallow dish or bucket for the “puddling” area.

Rocks add an architectural element to your garden and sun bathing spots for the butterflies. If the temperature drops below 80° F, butterflies will need to absorb heat by basking in the sun on a flat rock. Remember to add a bench for your enjoyment.

Maintaining your Garden Bed

After finishing the bed, water frequently at first, less eventually, for a few weeks until the new plants are established; on average, Valley native plants are fully established to survive on rain alone after 6 months. For more information on maintaining your new bed, please refer to Gardening in the LRGV.


Please avoid pesticide application when possible, all life stages of the butterfly are sensitive to pesticides. Weed the old fashioned way with your hands.

Plant it and they will come! We designed a butterfly garden in front of the historic mansion and there are butterflies everywhere including a beautiful Monarch Garden. Did you know that Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed? Their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants. We've planted the native milkweed to our region, the Prairie milkweed. Check out our butterfly designs and start yours today.



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Quinta Mazatlan

600 Sunset Drive
McAllen, TX 78504

(956) 681-3370

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