If you’re looking for a fun family project that will get your kids outdoors, help the ecosystem, and improve the scenery in your backyard, you can’t do better than plant a butterfly garden. Crowded out of cities and suburbs by acres of asphalt, butterflies are drawn to the simple pleasures: sun, food, and a place to lay eggs. Provide these and they’ll reward you with natural beauty all summer long.

Your first step is to contact a local nature preserve, an extension course at a nearby university, or a local gardening group to find out what butterflies live in your area. Like mothers everywhere, female butterflies are particular about where they set up housekeeping, and you’ll want to plant flowers that appeal to your audience. That said, there are some general rules that apply to all butterflies.

  • Butterflies tend to be drawn to red, orange, yellow and purple flowers. Cluster each color together so they’re easier for the butterflies to see, and place tall plants behind shorter ones. Remember to check with your local gardening center to see which kinds of nectar-producing plants will attract local butterflies. And make sure to buy plants that bloom at different times so there’s always something bright and delicious to draw butterflies to your yard.
  • Butterflies need water. If you want to provide a consistent source, you can partially bury a small can and fill it with water or sweet juice. This can also provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes, however, so skip this step if West Nile is an issue where you live.
  • Make your own “butterfly feeder.” Leave a bit of overripe fruit on a shady tree limb or hanging in a shallow basket.
  • Because butterflies are cold-blooded, they love to bask in the sun and need shelter when it’s windy. Scatter some flat rocks in your backyard and plant a few bushes as windbreaks.
  • What parent doesn’t know the very hungry caterpillar? Most mama butterflies don’t expect pizza and ice-cream cones, but they are picky when it comes to their little larvae. For example, monarchs will lay their eggs only on milkweed. Again, you’ll have to tailor your planting to your local species. Remember, the caterpillars are going to eat the leaves, so expect the plants to look a bit ragged, and don’t use any insecticide or pesticide!

While planting a butterfly garden requires more research than most backyard fun, the drudgery is a one-time chore, and the rewards last all summer long.