Creating a School Butterfly Garden: Teachers Guide

Step 1: Planning to Plant

  • Get permission from the school administration and maintenance personnel to plant a garden. It is especially important to gain the support of the people who mow the grounds.
  • Hold a brainstorming session with the class to generate interest in butterflies. Talk about how butterflies use plants, and how they need special plants at different times in their life cycle.
  • Discuss the work involved in a garden, including maintaining the garden during the summer and raising money for seeds and other materials. Also brainstorm benefits of a garden (their list included decreased noise and air pollution from reduced mowing; reduced soil erosion; a beautiful garden; a supply of cut flowers to sell or give to nursing homes, hospitals, etc.).
  • Develop a time line for the garden. If you start from seed, as she did, you will need at least three months. Their time line was roughly as follows. First month: get administrative support, choose a site, hold fund-raisers, order seeds, germinate seeds. Second month: monitor plant growth, design the garden. Third month: prepare garden site, transplant seedlings.
  • As a class, decide on the criteria you will use to judge a site. Smith's class considered available sunlight, level of foot traffic, visibility to school and community, and vulnerability to vandalism. They chose a courtyard that was visible but protected.


Step 2: Planning the Garden

  • Choose plants as a class, perhaps in small groups. Sources of information include seed catalogs, gardening magazines, books about butterflies and butterfly gardening (see bibliography), and other resources.
  • Encourage students to choose plants that bloom at different times. Also consider plant height, color, and length of blooming time. Variety is nice in all these variables.
  • Make suggestions as to the garden design, such as choosing colors that blend and making sure all plants are visible (i.e., tall in back, short in front). Offer resources that have other suggestions for garden planning. Plan the garden together.


Step 3: Starting Seedlings

  • Buy seeds. Sources include gardening catalogs, hardware stores, and nurseries.
  • Have students bring in yogurt containers, foam egg cartons, and the like to use to start seeds. Smith bought the other supplies from hardware stores and nurseries, including seed-starting potting soil, fertilizer, and straw, shovels, a rake, and a hoe.
  • Look into donations. Smith received horse manure from a stable, grass clippings from a school playing field for mulch, and tools students had at home.
  • Plant seedlings: Punch a small hole in the bottom of containers, fill with soil, bury seeds according to instructions, place containers on trays to catch extra water. Students should be responsible for caring for their plants. They can also measure plant growth, germination time, and other variables and keep track of the information in a science journal or lab notebook.
  • After 4 to 6 weeks, seedlings will be ready to transplant.


Step 4: Planting the Garden

  • Prepare the soil. Turn it over and add some fertilizer.
  • Plant seedlings. Make sure danger of frost is past.
  • Apply mulch to prevent soil erosion and maintain soil moisture.
  • Set up a schedule for garden maintenance as a class. Tasks may include watering, weeding, and replacing mulch.
  • Smith's class set up a time to observe the garden and its health once a week.
  • Clarify a no pesticide policy.


Step 5: Enjoying the Garden

Once the garden is going, and especially after flowers bloom, take time to enjoy the garden and to observe butterfly activity there. Smith's students were very enthusiastic, cared for the garden all summer long, and asked to stay involved the following year.


Good Luck & Happy Gardening!



If you come up with useful ideas for your school, share them with us and we'll post 'em on the web!



The ideas and information in this section come from an article written by Jennifer Goodwin Smith in the January 1995 issue of Science and Children (p. 29-32). She planned and planted a school butterfly garden with sixth and seventh graders in Maryland, and wrote the article to make it easier for others to do similar projects.