Grow It Yourself: A Backyard Butterfly Garden

Four beautiful flowers that will draw butterflies to your backyard.


Photo: Darlene Loo-McDowell

You might not get out to see exhibits or monarch-drawing gardens this year, but you can also get ready to welcome the winged creatures to your backyard all year round.

Darlene Loo-McDowell, a law firm administrator by day and Monarch butterfly gardener at home, has been raising and hosting butterflies for three years. She says, creating your own experience in your own yard is easier than you may think. There is no specific season and all you need are the right flowers and a little patience.


Photo: Darlene Loo-McDowell

Left: Kalanchoe. Right: Lantana.

To Attract Butterflies:

Plant flowers with the nectar that attract and feeds butterflies. In general, the insects are especially attracted to yellow and red flowers. Some of the most common varieties are:

  • Kalanchoe
  • Lantana
  • Pentas
  • Salvia


Photo: Darlene Loo-McDowell

To Raise Butterflies: 

You will need food for the caterpillars. Monarch caterpillars eat milk weed leaves. The most common type of milk weed in Hawai‘i is the Crown Flower plant, this is where the butterflies are most likely to lay eggs. If you want to hatch other types of butterflies, take a look at the Butterfly Society of Hawai‘i’s list of host plants.

Once the eggs are laid, you can put the plant in a screened area. Loo-McDowell gathers caterpillars once they’re hatched to protect them. Make sure caterpillars have enough to eat, one stalk with several leaves should be sufficient for one day of food. Refresh the stalk every day as uneaten leaves will dry up.

When the caterpillar creates a chrysalis, it will take about two weeks to become a butterfly. After a day or two, release it on to a nectar plant. In the three years since Loo-McDowell started her garden, she noticed that her butterflies visit as long as you have nectar flowers for it to feed on.

Loo-McDowell releases an average of 20 butterflies per week. You can read more about her experiences on her website, sharingthebutterflyexperience.com.