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

butterfly feeder
Image by kelifamily

By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener

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!

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