Make a Butterfly Feeder for Your Winged Friends
Offer fruit and fresh water on your butterfly buffet.
St. Lynn's Press
Monarch populations in North America have dropped for the last two decades. You can help by putting out a watering station like author Kylee Baumle's, or turning it into a feeder.
It may not seem like a feast to you, but a dish of decaying fruit is just the ticket to lure butterflies to your garden. Set out their favorite foods and a source of water, and watch for them from spring into fall.
Butterfly feeders are easy to make, and kids will find it fun to help. Here are a few options for your homemade diner, and take note: you can shop for plates, saucers or other shallow containers from a thrift store or your own cabinet. But since the feeder will be outdoors, don’t use anything valuable.
One way to make a simple feeder is by adapting the butterfly watering station featured in Kylee Baumle’s book, The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly (St. Lynn’s Press). Baumle, a garden writer and photographer, is passionate about saving monarchs, and her DIY station can double as a feeder for many kinds of butterflies.
St. Lynn's Press
If you put flowers around your butterfly feeder, use plants that bloom throughout the season, so your visitors have a steady supply of nectar.
Start with two saucers or plates in different sizes. Wash them to remove any debris and oils, and let them dry thoroughly.
Next, glue the smaller plate inside the larger one with epoxy adhesive. Let the glue dry and cure (see the directions on your product for how long to wait). Baumle used orange and black plates to echo the monarchs' colors.
Put some pebbles or decorative stones in the smaller plate, to give your visitors a place to land. Use a plant hanger or wire to suspend the station from a branch or hook.
If you prefer, and there are no cats around to pounce on unsuspecting butterflies, skip the plant hanger or wire. Put the station on the ground or on top of an overturned garden pot.
Baumle fills her station with fresh, clean water, and changes it often, since butterflies need drinking water as well as food. To use it as a feeder, omit the rocks and add some overripe fruit instead. Try oranges, soft bananas, berries, pineapples, melons, papayas, pears and plums cut into chunks or slices. If the fruits are dry, add a little orange juice.
Of course, rotting fruits will likely attract insects, too, so keep the feeder safely away from doors, windows and people—especially those who are allergic to the stings of bees, yellow jackets and other pests.
If you don’t have decaying fruit, make some butterfly food by mixing 1/4 cup of sugar to 1 cup of boiling water (don't let kids handle the boiling water). Stir well and let the mixture cool completely before you use it.
Another option: make a butterfly feeder from a single plastic garden saucer. Punch four holes around the rim, and thread strings through the holes. If you wish, slip brightly-colored beads onto the strings, or glue small, silk flowers on them. The colors and flower shapes will help attract butterflies.
Tie the strings together at the top of the feeder and hang it from a tree or hook. Add a sponge cut to fit the saucer and pour the sugar water mixture over it.
If the butterfly action around your feeder is slow, bring in some containers of flowers, or add plants to your yard.
More Tips for Attracting Butterflies
- Avoid using pesticides. Even Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally-occuring bacteria often used to control pests, can kill butterflies in the caterpillar stage.
- Grow native, flowering plants.
- Plant in masses, so butterflies can easily spot your flowers. Butterflies love reds, oranges, yellows, pinks and purples. Give them a selection of flat-topped flowers or flowers with short tubes.
- Offer caterpillar host plants too, such as dill, parsley, fennel, clover, sunflowers and milkweeds.
- For monarchs, grow native milkweeds. Baumle recommends common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, for USDA zones 3-9, and swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, for zones 3-6, and there are many other kinds.