Have you made a Butterfly Puddle?

posted in: Gardening | 18

Have you made a butterfly puddle? Butterflies must be one of the most elusive insects for me to photograph in the garden especially this summer. The UK Butterfly count is still going on and each day I try put aside 15 minutes and go outside with a cuppa to watch for them. Weather permitting! I normally only see a couple of small whites however their visits are normally very fleeting and impossible to photograph. Last year my fluttering garden visitors were Painted Ladies, Red Admirals, Peacocks, Small and Large Whites and Small tortoiseshells. However this year I’m slightly concerned as I’ve hardly seen any of these visitors. I can only imagine that our bad weather earlier in the season has affected their numbers quite significantly.

a butterfly drinking nectar from a cherry blossom
a butterfly drinking nectar from a cherry blossom


Today I counted no butterflies in the garden. But I’ll still be sending in this zero sighting as these ones are just as important to the researchers.

We all know that butterflies need nectar to survive but they also require minerals, salts and some water. If you’ve ever been to a butterfly house you’ll know that it gets awfully hot and sticky in there. But did you notice that the longer you stay in there the more attractive you become to the butterflies. Consequently more and more of them will fly closer towards you? In fact it’s the salt from our sweat that attracts them. Likewise I was much amused by their keen interest in me at our local butterfly farm.


Large White Pieris brassicae
Photo taken summer 2010:  Large White Pieris brassicae with a dusting of yellow on the underside of the wings


After having had that experience at Butterfly World, Edinburgh I decided to make a butterfly puddle in the garden. But there’s a caveat here for anyone in Scotland …don’t get excited by this as you’ll soon find out.


Have you made a Butterfly Puddle before?

  • You need a large shallow bowl about 16 – 20 inches in diameter which you fill with sand.
  • Then you add water to make the sand nice and moist (you must keep the sand damp at all times).
  • Dig a hole so that the top of the bowl is flush with the soil  (the water isn’t as fast to evaporate this way)
  • Add about a tablespoonful of well composted manure/chicken manure/ mushroom compost/stale beer.
  • Add a teaspoonful of salt. It encourages male butterflies as the salt is said to enhance their libido.
  • Add a few stones and a few shells so that the  butterflies can sunbathe.
  • Lastly a few slices of chopped up banana left to ferment as the butterflies prefer it that way (other fruits like apple or pear also work).


Well truth be told…it was totally unsuccessful last year here in central Scotland. I ended up with wasps being attracted to the fermenting fruit rather than butterflies. Then there was our wet summer which made sure that the bowl was waterlogged most of the time. Now if you live in a warmer dryer climate don’t let this put you off. You might want to seriously consider making one of these puddles as they seem to be very successful in the USA. But alas not in my garden!


Large White butterfly common name Cabbage White
Photo taken summer 2010: Large White – common name Cabbage White


One of the leavesnbloom readers – Annetta Barker from California made some butterfly puddles. She kindly allowed me to place a few photos here so that everyone could see how creative you can be when making them.

Have you made a Butterfly Puddle like Annetta
Have you made a Butterfly Puddle?

Annetta’s Technique

Over on my Facebook page leavesnbloom photos Annetta says:

The stacking of rocks was my idea as a stand of some sort. I then took a small to medium size terracotta pot saucer.  Then I layered down some sand and manure mix topped with small pebbles and then some larger rocks.
I know now that my mixture should have filled the saucer more – which I’m planning to do. Trial and error as they say …
Even so I have had a few visitors already at the puddle site. Will keep you informed of what transpires.


More Design Inspiration

Annetta also made a few more puddle designs that should give you some inspiration for creating your own:

butterfly puddle design by Annette Barker
have you made a butterfly puddle like this?
butterfly puddle design by Annette Barker
have you made a butterfly puddle like Annetta’s?


Thanks very much Annetta for sharing your great designs. Likewise if anyone else has ever tried to make one of these butterfly puddles please let me know. I’ll share your story and pictures here on the blog.

Follow Rosie Nixon:

Photography Tutor and Gardener

Rosie is a garden photographer, writer and nature lover. She enjoys soaking up nature and is easily distracted from doing the weeding by anything that flutters, flies, buzzes, creeps or crawls! She enjoys sharing the beauty of creation through her photography. Rosie has been featured on TV on BBC2's The Beechgrove Garden and she uses the outdoors as her natural light studio. Her work can be seen at one of Scotland's only photography galleries - Close Gallery, 4b Howe Street, Edinburgh. If you'd like to receive the latest leavesnbloom blog posts by email click here.

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18 Responses

  1. Kirk Mona

    I've heard of photographers making butterfly "puddles" the au naturel way. Apparently butterflies are also attracted to urine and it can be a good way to entice them close enough to photograph. Probably not the kind of thing to install in the garden.

  2. Gatsbys Gardens

    Never made a puddle Rosie but in my classroom we used to wet cotton balls with sugar water and pick favorite colored flowers to go in the cage.

    We would watch the butterflies unfurl their long proboscus and suck the nectar out of the flowers and cotton balls. I never thought of doing this outside but this is a great idea.


  3. Gerry Snape

    What great photos those are….I seem to have at least as many butterflies this summer as last in fact maybe more…or maybe I'm just out in the back field more.

  4. HolleyGarden

    I went to my first butterfly habitat just last month on my vacation. It was interesting, although like you said, very hot and humid. I didn't stay long enough for them to become attracted to my sweat! I did notice that there were little 'puddles' put out for them. I have not done this, but perhaps I will think of doing so sometime. Sorry you got a zero count today. But you are right – this report will be just as (or possibly more!) important to the researchers.

  5. Wife, Mother, Gardener

    We have had three Monarch sightings so far this season, though I have missed them all.

    I am especially curious about them being attracted to sweating people, as we are taking a trip to the local conservatory that has a butterfly room for the summer months. I will have us run a few laps before going inside 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your UK butterfly happenings!

  6. Your Gardening Friend

    I live in the USA, so I'm very interested in trying out this "butterfly puddle". I've never heard of it, so this is great to know.

    EXCELLENT photos. I love the detail you've captured of the bee!!

  7. Pam's English Garden

    Dear Rosie, Yes, I have a butterfly puddle, but didn't know about the salt. I'm going to add it to the mix in future. Mine is not very successful, but I imagine the male butterflies 'puddle' when I am not around. One day I hope to get pictures of them using the dish, then I'll do a posting. P x

  8. PatioPatch

    Rosie this is brilliant and perfectly timed. Since they tend to just flutterby, this may be the answer to my butterfly problem

  9. Andrea

    hahaha Rosie, i like your butterfly puddle recipe. However, we don't need it anymore as we have lots of them here naturally available, and lots of natural food for them too. If they want more dishes aside from flowers, there are decaying fruits around. I hope they are happy. That's why you saw my photos with lots of them in one place!

  10. Curbstone Valley Farm

    Interesting recipe for a butterfly puddle. I haven't made anything quite so elaborate, but I have targeted an extra shrub bubbler from the drip irrigation system to an area of exposed soil that we keep damp, and free of mulch. The butterflies seem to appreciate it, especially on hot days, and our mason bees use the area to collect mud for their nests.

  11. Jayne

    Great photos Rosie. I thought about making a butterfly puddle recently, because I'm sure our drought is stressing the local butterflies. I just haven't got around to it yet. I'll have to give it a try.

  12. Ginny

    I made a small puddle last summer with a clay dish, some sand, and a little compost – no salt or fermented fruit. But I never saw a butterfly near it. I did see a butterfly "bathing" on the mud bank at the lake though – maybe I should bring home some of that red clay!

  13. Lyn

    I've never heard of a butterfly puddle, but I think it's a fascinating idea and I'm planning to try one as soon as the weather warms up (it's winter here). Thanks for the info!

  14. Caroline Gill

    A brilliant and informative post. We have had some Speckled Wood butterfly visitors to the shady part of our garden, but few others recently.

    I noticed your Fine Art Shop, and have thoroughly enjoyed browsing through your images, which are amazing and inspiring. I had a Photoshop Gallery until their system changed … must look into all this again soon.

  15. lafosse

    Hello again Rosie – sorry to be responding to your older posts but I just love the idea of a butterfly puddle. I will have to tuck it away somewhere out of reach of my cats and also my free-ranging chickens but here in northern France, the weather is due to be warm for the next week or so and I've already seen peacocks, red admirals and brimstones. So, before the wasps arrive, this coming week may be a very good time to try a butterfly puddle. I'll let you know how I get on. 🙂
    Best wishes, Carole

  16. moonlake

    I take photos and video of the butterflies that puddle in our garden. I enjoyed your website.