How Do I Make a Butterfly Feeder and Food?

Katy Willis
Written by Katy Willis
Updated July 6, 2022
Butterfly on plant
Photo: Lawrence / Adobe Stock

A homemade butterfly feeder is an easy project you can make from everyday items

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Difficulty level: 1/5 No experience? No problem.

Time to complete: 30 minutes

Cost: $10–$15 Keep it wallet-friendly.

Making a butterfly feeder is a quick, fun activity that adds a splash of color to your garden and, more importantly, attracts and supports these essential pollinators. Plus, if you have kids, butterflies provide great educational opportunities. A DIY butterfly feeder is a simple project that helps to feed some of the 561 known butterfly species in the U.S and Canada. 

Choose from two different butterfly feeders: the butterfly jar feeder, which will give your winged friends a snack of sugar water, or the plate feeder that lets you offer sugar water and fruit. 

Butterfly Jar Feeder

Tools:

  • Hammer

  • Saucepan 

Supplies: 

  • Jar

  • Medium-thick nail

  • Sponge

  • Granulated sugar

  • Honey

  • Water

  • Faux flowers 

  • Strin

A butterfly water feeder is quick and easy to make and works by keeping a sponge wet with butterfly nectar (aka sugar water). Just follow these simple steps.

1. Make a Small Hole in the Jar’s Lid

Using the hammer and nail, punch a small hole through the center of the jar’s lid. Use a medium-thick nail, as you'll need to thread a strip of sponge through the hole in the next step. 

If this is an activity for children, make sure the supervising adult takes care during this step (or maybe even preps the jar lid beforehand) to keep everyone safe.

2. Situate the Sponge

Take the sponge and cut a half-inch-long strip. Thread this roughly halfway through the hole you made in the jar lid. Make sure it's a snug fit; otherwise, when you add the butterfly nectar, it'll run out past the sponge and make a sticky mess in the garden. 

Tip: Add some water to the jar and replace the lid. Tip it upside down over the sink and give it a gentle shake. If it drips, the sponge is too small, and you'll need to cut a bigger piece and retest.

3. Decorate Your DIY Butterfly Feeder

Decorating the feeder isn't just about making it look pretty; it's about attracting butterflies. Do this by using bright colors and, ideally, large, vibrant faux flowers to entice the butterflies to your feeder.

4. Make Butterfly Water

Butterfly water is just a simple sugar solution, and it's super-easy to make, however it does require adult supervision. Put a saucepan on the stovetop and add one part granulated sugar to four parts water. If you're concerned that this is too rich in sugar, then dilute it a little more—up to nine parts water to one part sugar. 

Turn on the stove and bring the pan to a boil. As soon as the sugar fully dissolves, remove the solution from the heat and set it aside to cool.

Tip: You can also make butterfly water using honey. Simply dissolve one part honey in four parts warm (not hot) water and use as you would the sugar solution. 

Important: Some recipes call for dyes and food colorants to make the water "pretty." However, studies show that the chemicals in dyes may be harmful to hummingbirds and some beneficial insects who will also use your feeder, so please don't use them. Decorate the exterior instead.

5. Prepare the Butterfly Feeder Hanger

Tie a length of string around the neck of the jar, above the shoulder but below the threads. Cut two pieces of string, each around 2 feet long. Take one of these 2-foot lengths and tie it around the string around the jar neck. Tie the other end on the opposite side, making a loop. This makes the first half of the hanger.

Repeat this with the remaining piece, tying it at 90 degrees from the other piece so that you've got two loops, each tied at a different quarter-point around the neck of the jar. Cut a small piece of string and tie the top of the two loops together, creating an easy, secure hanger.

6. Fill Your Butterfly Feeder

Once the butterfly food is cool, add it to your jar. Screw on the lid tightly and, standing over the sink, tip it upside down and let it hang from the hanger for a few seconds to make sure it's not leaking.

7. Hang Your Feeder and Enjoy the Butterflies

Take the butterfly feeding station outside and find somewhere to hang it. Remember, though, that sugar water attracts other bugs as well as hummingbirds, so don't put them too close to your house. Ideally, you want it to stand out from the rest of your plants, so try placing it at least a foot above your tallest flowers.

Butterfly on Daisy
Photo: gabee-in / Adobe Stock

Butterfly Fruit Feeder Alternative

Tools: 

  • Plastic plate or saucer

  • Scissors

  • Saucepan

Supplies:

  • String

  • Sugar

  • Water

  • Sponge

  • Overripe fruit

  • Faux flowers

As an alternative to the jar feeder, you can reuse a plastic plate or plant saucer to make a hanging feeder. It's just as quick and easy and lets you make use of fruits like bananas and berries that are past their prime.

1. Prepare Your Hanger

(This is a job for an adult). Use scissors or a sharp knife to pierce four holes equal distance from each other around the rim of the plastic saucer or plate, one at each quarter-point. Cut two pieces of string to roughly 2 feet long. Thread one end of the first piece of string through one of the holes you just made and tie it off. Thread and tie the other end through the opposite hole. 

Repeat this process with the other piece of string and the vacant holes. Cut a short length of string and tie together the two loops at the top. This should not hang evenly. 

2. Decorate

Just like the jar feeder, this one needs decorating with bright colors and faux flowers, too. Flowers, vibrant ribbons, streamers, and beads all work well to create a butterfly-attracting riot of color.

3. Add Butterfly Food

Butterflies consume nectar, which we make with sugar or honey and water and fruit juice. To give variety, you can add ripe to overripe juicy fruits like strawberries, mangoes, nectarines, watermelon, and bananas. Just chop the fruit into chunks and spread it across your feeder. 

If you want, you can also add a clean dish sponge soaked in sugar or honey water, as we made for the jar feeder. Simply replace the fruit when it dries out, shows signs of mold, or starts to rot.

4. Hang Your Feeder and Enjoy the Butterflies

As with the jar feeder, hang this one from a tree branch or a hanging basket bracket that's at least a foot higher than your flowers. Give the creatures a chance to find it, then watch with delight as the butterflies come to enjoy the feast you've provided.

Three butterflies on a flower
Photo: gabee-in / Adobe Stock

Other Ways to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden

There are other ways to attract butterflies, birds, and other pollinators to your garden. One of the best ways is to choose the right flowers. Choose a mix of flowers of different heights, an array of colors, and a range of flower sizes, from huge, vibrant tree peonies to delicate baby's breath and lobelia. For the best flowers for your area, speak to a local garden designer who can advise you on which plants would work best in your particular space.

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