Water for Butterflies

Flowers aren’t the only things butterflies look for when they pay your garden a visit.

Water is essential to a butterfly, and any way it can be offered is good. Ponds, fountains, misters, or birdbaths will supply what rain and morning dew cannot.

Photo of a terra cotta butterfly bath like this one will heat up in the sun and provide a drinking source and warm resting place for your visitors. Photo © by Giles Prett/SCI, excerpted from The Family Butterfly Book
A terra cotta butterfly bath like this one will heat up in the sun and provide a drinking source and warm resting place for your visitors. Photo © by Giles Prett/SCI, excerpted from The Family Butterfly Book


Here are a few ways to give visiting butterflies a place to stop and sip.

Birdbaths work better without the pedestal. Many birdbath saucers have decorative patterns and designs on them, and when they’re placed directly on the ground, they make a lovely addition to any garden.

Placing a few stones in the saucer to project slightly above the water surface or floating a small piece of wood in the water will make your water feature even more appealing to butterflies. These platforms are perfect resting places and allow your garden guests easy access to the water.

Terra Cotta Plant Saucers

Another water source can be large terra cotta plant saucers. These make excellent watering dishes for butterflies because they can easily be moved about the garden on a whim, plus they are very easy to clean. No need to dig a hole in your yard, and chances are you have a few such saucers in the basement or garage already.

Fountains, Waterfalls, and Sprinklers

If you have a choice of water source, go with moving water. Burbling fountains and waterfalls are good choices, as is a sprinkler, for that matter. Butterflies sometimes float through the mist of a waterfall or garden sprinkler. They seem to enjoy taking showers and can be seen swaying through light summer rains.

Butterflies need to heat up before they can move or fly. They do so by shivering or basking in the sunlight. You can create a basking area around your waterless pond with a small band of sand. Beach sand works best if you have access to it, and it’s saturated with sea salt, which male butterflies love. Unmated males, like the Swallowtails in this photo, are “puddling,” or gathering to sip salt and minerals from the soil before mating. Photo © by Jeff Fengler, excerpted from The Family Butterfly Book

Waterless Pond

What in the world, you may be asking yourself, is a “waterless pond”? Sounds like a major contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? Well, you’re right. Mostly. But the beauty of a waterless pond is that it can easily be fashioned in any garden. It doesn’t (as the term implies) even require water, yet it will be aesthetically pleasing to you and useful to your visiting butterflies.

On mornings of heavy condensation, it won’t require any filling with water. (During the hottest part of summer you may need to add water in the morning with a watering can.) The dew will collect on the rocks and slide down between the cracks. Butterflies can land on the stones and sip the moisture from between them. The heat of the day will evaporate the remaining dew by the end of the afternoon, and you won’t have to worry about any buildup of algae. If you choose colorful or interesting stones, your waterless pond may just become the conversation piece of your garden. The dimensions are up to you: There is no set size that will work better than another. Whatever fits into your gardening scheme is the right size and will be appreciated by the butterflies.

How to Build a Waterless Pond

Materials & Equipment

  • Trowel
  • String
  • Large heavy-duty plastic garbage bag
  • Scissors
  • Small stones or river rocks (about a wheelbarrowful)

Step 1: Dig a hole. Outline it first with string in the shape of a butterfly if you wish.

Step 2: Line the hole with the large plastic garbage bag. It should come to just below the top of the hole. Trim off any excess.

Step 3: Fill the hole with a layer of small stones and river rocks until they are flush with the surrounding area.

Rick Mikula

About the Author

Rick Mikula, author of The Family Butterfly Book, is known as the grandfather of butterfly farming. He owns Hole-in-Hand Butterfly Farm and serves as a habitat consultant for numerous museums, zoos, aviaries, universities, and parks, including Dolly Parton’s Butterfly Emporium at Dollywood and the Hershey Gardens Butterfly House. He gives hundreds of lectures and workshops every year, and his work has been featured in newspapers, in magazines, and on television and radio programs around the world. Mikula lives in Pennsylvania.

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