Butterfly Garden Feeding: How To Feed And Water Butterflies In Gardens

Butterfly Garden Feeding: How To Feed And Water Butterflies In Gardens

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Butterflies are fascinating creatures that bring an element of grace and color to the garden. They are also effective pollinators for a variety of trees and plants. Additionally, many butterfly types are endangered and via your butterfly garden, you’re doing your part to preserve these precious, winged beauties.

Planting a variety of butterfly-friendly plants is only the beginning. A successful butterfly garden requires an understanding of butterfly garden feeding, including beneficial food and water sources for butterflies.

How to Feed and Water Butterflies

Butterflies are picky about their diets and different types of butterflies have different preferences, but in general, they require a liquid or semi-liquid diet. Most are happy with the sweet nectar in flowers, but others like foods that humans find unpalatable, such as rotten fruit, animal manure or tree sap.

If you want to attract a variety of butterflies it’s a good idea to provide a variety of food. Sweet, gooey foods are especially effective – the smellier and goopier, the better. For example, think mushy apples or overripe bananas mashed with a little molasses. Many butterflies also enjoy sliced oranges. Some people have excellent luck with sugar water or a little sports drink, but not the artificially sweetened type!

Create a Butterfly Feeding Station

A butterfly feeding station doesn’t need to be involved, fancy or expensive. It just needs to be accessible.

For example, a butterfly feeding station can be a metal pie pan or plastic plate. Drill three holes equidistant in the plate, then hang the plate from a tree with string, wire or a pretty macramé-type hanger. Butterflies will be happy if you hang the feeder in a shady spot, in close proximity to nectar-rich flowers.

Likewise, you can use a shallow dish placed on a stand, among some rocks in the garden, or even on a tree stump. As long as it’s in a location with some of their favorite plants nearby, they will come.

Butterfly Water Feeder (“Puddlers”)

Butterfly water feeders really aren’t necessary to supply water and butterflies don’t need bird baths or ponds because they get the liquid they need from nectar. However, they need places to “puddle,” as “puddling” provides the critical minerals that butterflies require. Here are a couple ways to create puddlers that butterflies will love.

Spread a thin layer of dirt in the bottom of a shallow pie pan or dish. Arrange some rocks in the pan so the butterflies have a place to land. Cut a kitchen sponge into various shapes and arrange the sponges between the rocks, or put one large sponge in the center of the plate. Keep the sponges damp so the water slowly seeps to keep the soil moist. Put the puddler in a sunny, protected area near butterfly-friendly flowers where you can keep an eye on the visitors.

A similar version of a puddler is to bury a shallow plate or bowl in the ground so the lip of the container is even with the surface of the soil. Fill the container with sand, then arrange a few rocks or wood chunks on the soil for landing spots. Add water as needed to keep the sand consistently wet. Butterflies will love it!

Sometimes the simplest ideas work best! I made this water feeder from an old grape vine wreath, a pie plate, and some stones. Hang it with twine and add water and you’re all set.

Minutes after I first hung it up I saw a goldfinch and butterfly both stop by to check it out. Soon after a mourning dove gave it a try but soon realized she was better off at the pond.

If you live in an area with limited fresh water or prone to droughts, providing fresh clean water is essential for all the living creatures that bring our gardens (and nature) to life.

Download the free instructions to save on your phone or computer or keep reading for all the details.

Make a Butterfly Feeder

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Butterflies are some of the most beautiful creatures you will see in the summertime.

You might watch them flutter through your yard now and then in search of sweet nectar.

But to attract a greater variety of butterflies, use two different methods to make a butterfly feeder. Keep a field guide handy so you can identify your visitors!

(An Audubon guide is a great choice for older kids and adults, and a Golden guide works well for younger kids.)

Some butterflies love flower nectar, while others prefer to eat sugar from a rotting fruit. Learn two different ways to make a butterfly feeder and see if they attract different types of butterflies.

Make a Butterfly Feeder – Jar Method

Construct a butterfly feeder using a baby food jar and some sugar water. Adult supervision is recommended.

What You Need:

  • Small jar (like a baby food jar)
  • Hammer and nail
  • Kitchen sponge
  • String
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Construction paper or artificial flowers

What You Do:

1. Make some butterfly food with nine parts water and one part sugar (use tablespoons or teaspoons depending on the size of your jar). Add the sugar to the water and boil in a pan until it is dissolved. Let it cool while you prepare the butterfly feeder.

2. Have an adult help you use a nail and a hammer to punch a small hole in the lid of the jar.

3. Cut a strip of the kitchen sponge and pull it through the hole in the lid, leaving about a half-inch sticking out from the top of the lid. You want the sponge to be a tight fit – it should get soaked with the sugar water, but not drip. (Test it by putting water in the jar and turning it upside down. If it leaks, try a bigger piece of sponge.)

4. Next, make a hanger. Tie some string around the mouth of the jar. Cut two more lengths of string about 30′ long. Take one and tie an end to the string around the mouth of the jar. Attach the other end on the opposite side of the jar to make a loop. Tie the second length of the string in the same way to make a second loop perpendicular to the first one. Use one more piece of string to tie the tops of the loops together. Now turn the jar upside down and make sure it hangs steadily.

5. Decorate the jar with brightly colored construction paper (flower shapes are best) or artificial flowers. The ‘prettier’ it is, the more it will attract butterflies!

6. Fill the jar with the cooled sugar water, screw the lid on tightly, and turn the jar upside down.

7. Hang your feeder outside and wait for the butterflies to come!

Make a Butterfly Feeder – Plate Method

Create this butterfly feeder quickly and easily! Plus, use up old fruit that usually gets thrown away.

What You Need:

  • A plate or plastic lid from a 1-gallon ice cream container.
  • String
  • Overripe, spoiling fruit. (See if your grocery store will let you have what they are throwing out for free if you don’t have any at home.)
  • Orange juice

What You Do:

1. Use the string to make a hanger for your plate. If you’re using an old ice cream lid you can punch holes in the side and tie the string to it. If it’s a plate that you can’t punch holes in, use tape. You can decorate the strings with artificial flowers to make it more attractive to butterflies.

2. Hang your plate from a tree branch before you fill it to make the process less messy! It will probably attract other bugs besides butterflies, so you may want to hang it in a far corner of your yard.

3. Put overripe fruit on the plate try slices of watermelon, oranges, or bananas. You can also add some orange juice to keep the fruit from drying out as fast. Bananas will be mushier and more appealing to butterflies if you freeze them first and then thaw them and cut them in slices.

4. Watch and see what kinds of butterflies come to eat. Do different species prefer different kinds of fruit? How many butterflies can you see feeding on your plate at once?

5. When the fruit gets too dry, throw it out and put more on the plate.

More Ways to Attract Butterflies:


My son has rescued a malformed winged monarch butterfly. Not sure what to do with it, so we made up nectar, soaked a sponge in it and created a habitat for it to live out the rest of its days. We’re giving it fruit and have placed a flowering plant stem in the tank. I feel bad keeping it in a tank but I think it would die quickly in nature given it’s malformed wing. My son is a kind hearted soul and has rescued many animals and insects. Thanks for your informative post for providing food to wildlife. Sometimes they really need the help!

From experience I can tell you this… it a heck of a lot harder to raise butterflies than it seems. Chemicals, and even natural insectices, are deadly to butterflies. They are such fragile babies. I would say that a water-only puddler is a wonderful idea for most of us. I get butterflies by watering my garden overhead (not tomato plants – they don’t like their leaves wet). I don’t put out sucrose or fructose food because it will attract every other insect in the area, also. Butterflies don’t like contaminated food or fluid sources anymore than we do. You have to decide if you want to do battle with unwanted insects everyday. I do grow milkweed, but the constant infestation of aphids and ants is horrific and wearisome. Butterflies won’t lay eggs on infested plants. Read, read, read, especially before educating youngsters. There is so much ‘knowledge’ that I have had to unlearn. And finally, don’t use artifical sweeteners. The butterflies will be fooled alright…..and they will die. Plant an attractive landscape that you like and are willing to care for daily, and you will see butterflies, just maybe not hoards of them. That’s OK Leave some for my yard ) Bless all of your efforts.

This looks like a nice idea but I would add that I would SERIOUSLY clean a new sponge before using for this–there is always weird soapy stuff that comes out of fresh sponges. Repeatedly soak a new sponge in fresh water and squeeze it out many times before using it for this project.

It’s a Nice idea Jody but is it good for butterflies to eat industrial processed sugar?
Instead of natural sugar from flowers.
I Think it’s better to plant plants good for honey, it attracts them a lot and doesn’t do any harm to their health and DNA.
In the peace of Christ,

Plant butterfly weed and milk weed . These are natural butterfly food. These are indegenous to the area. Butterfly bushes are imported. The butterfly’s will thank you

Your responses to people: “plant butterfly weed and milk weed” show that you are not very knowledgeable about the subject of what plants to use to draw butterflies to one’s garden.
“Butterfly weed is milkweed (one word)” Yes, there is a butterfly bush that the butterflies and hummers love, but it’s just one of many.
The host plant, the plant that the female Monarch lays eggs on, is the only plant that the Monarch caterpillar can eat. For 14 days, the Monarch caterpillar eats, growing up to 2500 its size as a hatchling. It then forms a Chrysalis (jade with gold dots) and in about 10 days, the Monarch butterfly emerges. Hopefully. If left in the garden, the Monarch has a low survival rate. Predators, parasites, and pathogens limit how many Monarchs will survive from egg to butterfly…only 1-2% will survive.
And then we have the well-meaning, but unfamiliar person extending advice that is completely wrong.
Max, you are right. It is not suggested that sugar water should be available to Monarch butterflies. The cut fruit idea is used, but you have to be consistent in removing the fruit pieces every day, and washing and sterilizing any sponge or container with any fruit juice they may rest in. Pathogens will grow quickly and actually kill the butterflies.
Please, Zoey, educate yourself on this subject or suggest a site that will have the correct answers. You are actually setting up death traps for butterflies.

Why do you have to be so mean and patronizing ? We get it , you are very knowledgeable – this is the same mixture that we feed hummingbirds!

Nancee besides being an ass, you are also wrong or at least incomplete in your descriltion. I have monarch chrysallis, 3 of them currently that are green not jade and they are dill before settling into my parsley to transform.

Nancee you are so rude. You don’t need to put someone down to get your point across.

Bees are a necessity for plants and the earth, hopefully it does help bees, too.

some wonderful ideas for the classroom

Just like with hummingbird feeders, this will attract ants. You may not want it too close to your home.

Doesn’t this butterfly nectar attract bees too?

I would love to try this, but was wondering the same thing, seems like they would dry out fast in the heat.

How often are the sponges changed and are they sanitized and reused?

This looks like so much fun! We have lots of “nasty” sweet loving critters here in Texas–have you had any problems with wasps, hornets, or bees being attracted to these?

Sometimes Nicole, they do attract other unwanted pests. you get some thorns with the roses :(. So far I have not seen any this season, but just lots of butterflies and the random beetle we have to rescue out of there.

How often would you need to rewet these with the solution? Is this something you would need to do daily or would it be good for a few days? Thanks!

We have problems with snails, help

Put beer in dishes. They drink the beer and die.

Hello, I am 13 years old turning 14 in November. I love to garden, i love the outdoors, i also love animals with all my heart (God first of course),go fishing with my ‘special’ friend, and want to be a hunter. I would like to know how to keep chickens. My family has 10 acres of land, 2 dogs, 2 cats, and 2 rats. (All of which are mine). And my mom and I are thinking of getting chickens. And quiet a few of them. (About 10-15) I just wanted to know if you prefer any specific chicken coop, able to hold a good amount of chickens or 2 good sized coops. (Or at least a chicken coop plan, which is a whole lot cheaper).

Desiree: About Chickens. There are so many coops but I wanted to say plant peppermint around the coup. Most mice and rodents don’t like peppermint so it helps keep them out of the coup. Nothing is one hundred percent guarantee. But also place chickens in the chicken nest to help keep the mice out. If you put chicken coup in the pinterest search or just chickens you will get a lot of ideas about raising chickens.

I hope you get the chicken they are so much fun and a lot of work. My grandson & I (along with his Dad’s help ) raised 12 baby chick’s (which we bought at the local farmers store) we used metal water tank with a drop light for about the first 6 weeks in side the barn and covered the top with boards on each side with a piece of wire across th middle. Put shaving in the bottom to clean out daily then we moved them to a well fenced area of chicken wire coup lots of different styles. Kept the critters out Good luck ours laid eggs after about 4 to 5 mths. We had alot of FUN

I would suggest the basics. Gated yard, roofed and walled safe house. bedding, lg. waterer, and food dispenser. Then there’s the lice, mites and other meds they need until 6 months, then it’s you preference to be organic or not. Once they are older you can choose to let them into your grass yard to forage for insects and such cause that’s what chickens do. Hope this helps:)

Make a Butterfly Feeder for Your Winged Friends

Offer fruit and fresh water on your butterfly buffet.

Butterfly Feeder

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.

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.

Related To:

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.

The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly

If you put flowers around your butterfly feeder, use plants that bloom throughout the season, so your visitors have a steady supply of nectar.

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.


This tree nymph butterfly enjoys feeding on oranges.

Photo by:

This tree nymph butterfly enjoys feeding on oranges.

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.


Dont toss your old fruit. Let the butterflies enjoy it. Nectar and fruit are high in calories and necessary for their lives.

Photo by: Getty Images/Jack Taylor

Dont toss your old fruit. Let the butterflies enjoy it. Nectar and fruit are high in calories and necessary for their lives.

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.

From "The Butterfly Garden," by Matthew Tekulsky (Harvard Common Press, 1985) comes this formula which makes use of old bananas and flat beer.

  • 1 pound sugar
  • 1 or 2 cans stale beer
  • 3 mashed overripe banana
  • 1 cup of molasses or syrup
  • 1 cup of fruit juice
  • 1 shot of rum

Mix all ingredients well and paint on trees, fence posts, rocks, or stumps–or simply soak a sponge in the mixture and hang from a tree limb.

Is There Anything Else I Can Do to Draw Them to My Garden?

My mother-in-law loved butterflies around her garden. It brought her a great deal of joy. If you desire to draw butterflies to your garden too, certainly plant or provide the food sources mentioned above.

However, you can take one additional step to draw them in. Butterflies are specific about where they lay their eggs.

You must research which variety of butterflies is prevalent in your area. Once you have this information, you can research which type of plant they like to lay their eggs on.

These plants are referred to as a ‘host plant.’ By planting host plants in your garden or around your home, you’re providing a safe place for butterflies to lay eggs for the next generation.

Make sure you have ample caterpillar food sources planted around your home or garden as well. It will make your home a butterfly haven from start to finish.

You now know what do butterflies eat, how they eat, and how you can encourage and provide for butterflies in all stages of their lives.

The old saying, “If you feed them, they will come” is correct. Put it into action for butterflies, and your home and garden should be a great place to watch them and enjoy the beauty only nature can provide.

Watch the video: How To Make A Banana Hanger To Feed Butterflies - Exactly How I Did It