Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Exploring Our Values Through Poetry: A Program for High School Youth

Leader Resource 1: Butterfly Garden Instructions

Adapted from instructions provided by Elizabeth Waldorf and the Gulf Coast Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (GCUUF), Gulfport, MS.

These instructions are the steps taken by the GCUUF when they created a butterfly garden for a local elementary school. You may use these instructions or follow instructions from other sources (see Find Out More). You will need to tailor the plan for your region and climate.

The GCUUF built a U-shaped garden about fourteen feet long and three feet wide. They used ten sacks of topsoil, ten bags of composted manure, and two bales of peat moss. They planted about twenty kinds of plants, including a border of monkey grass (Lirope), and placed a birdbath at soil level. They mulched with more than ten bags of shredded bark. Six adults and four children tilled and planted the garden in about two hours. Because half the plants were donated, the total cost was about ninety-five dollars.



  • Contact a local elementary school and obtain permission to plant a garden. Speak to either the principal or possibly a counselor. Request a site away from ball fields, preferably near classroom windows and a water spigot and hose. A sunny site is best.
  • Dormant plants are easiest to transplant. If possible, plant your garden in cool weather between November and April.
  • Select plants that provide food for butterflies. Not all plants will grow in all areas. A few suggestions are aster, bee balm, butterfly bush, verbena, lavender, lilies, violets, cypress vine, zinnia, African trailing daisies, and wild lupines. The North American Butterfly Association sells butterfly guides that are region-specific and good sources for gardening.
  • You will need some host plants, or plants that butterfly caterpillars eat. Examples are milkweed, red and white clover, and nettles. Do not be distressed if the caterpillars damage the plants.
  • You will also need plants that produce blooms containing nectar that adult butterflies drink. Nectar consumption does not damage the plant, and pollination can result. The more nectar-rich flowers you have, the more butterflies will be attracted to your garden.
  • Choose plants that have diverse forms, leaf shapes, and flower types. Choose some evergreens. Place contrasting plants together to produce an interesting design.
  • Healthy, inexpensive plants are available at many farmers' markets. Members of your group might donate excess plants from their home gardens. You could also work with the schoolteachers to devise a plan for families of students in different classrooms to donate different plants. You will need to provide a different list of specific plants to each classroom to make sure you receive a variety of plants.
  • Perennial plants live several years. Give them ample space to grow.
  • Masses of one plant type will more effectively attract butterflies. Consider planting several shrub verbenas (Lantana) in one area.
  • Supply water for the butterflies. Incorporate either a birdbath or a naturally low area that will remain wet. Another option is to bury a bucket to its rim. Partially fill the bucket with sand and add water.
  • Once you have decided on all the elements you will use, draw a plan that shows garden shape, dimensions, and where to position each plant and the water source. If possible, involve the schoolchildren in the planning. They can also help with planting.


  • Till the soil and remove broken concrete, broken glass, and other debris. If the site is low and poorly drained, elevate the flowerbed. A few elevated beds will make the garden more accessible for people using wheelchairs and walkers.
  • Add organic matter (peat moss), composted manure, and fertilizer and mix them into the soil.
  • Set each plant at the depth of its original planting, whether it arrived in a pot or bare from someone's home garden. If you are transplanting from pots, set the complete soil mass—with the plant and its roots undisturbed—in the soil.
  • Mulch the garden surface with either shredded bark or bags of leaves and grass clippings collected from the roadside. Thick mulch reduces weed growth.
  • Place a sign in the garden. Note that, because of concern about the separation of church and state, some schools will not allow church names on the sign.


  • Provide a map or plan of the garden that identifies the plants to elementary teachers. Alternatively, place labels on stakes beside each plant. This introduces plant names.


  • Thick mulch prevents the growth of some weeds and slows the growth of others. You will need to periodically replenish the mulch. Bags of grass clippings and mulched leaves work well.
  • Ask the school groundskeeper to help water and protect the garden.
  • Occasionally a plant will die. Either replace it or allow adjacent plants to grow into that space.
  • Give the garden to the students. Distribute copies of Handout 2, Tips on Caring for Your Butterfly Garden, to encourage them to care for it.