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Ten Steps to a Wildflower/Butterfly Garden

Sand, 23 tonnes in all, has to be spread
across the wildflower/butterfly garden to
a depth of about 20 centimetres.

Mulch is packed against the rocks and/or
logs that mark the garden's perimeter to
prevent the sand from escaping.

Students begin planting the wildflowers

The garden is complete with a nesting box.
Now everyone can relax and enjoy their
garden while it grows.

A wildflower/butterfly garden one year
after planting.

Every year, FRW helps several schools to create wildflower/butterfly gardens in their schoolyards. These 10 steps show how it is done.

1. Fundraising

a. A minimum of $3,500 is needed to do a basic wildflower/butterfly garden.

b. Rocks and any other special materials will add to this cost.

c. Toronto Dominion Friends of the Environment Foundation is a great way to acquire the necessary funding (Contact FRW for more information).

d. Other funding sources are:

  • Evergreen Foundation
  • Home Depot

2. Wildflower/ Butterfly Garden Location

a. A sun garden must receive at least five hours of sunshine in a day;

b. The garden should be away from play areas and heavy pedestrian traffic;

c. The garden should be no closer than five metres to a parking lot or road, due to snow removal and salt spray.

d. The garden needs to be accessible by a dump truck or extra work will be needed to move the sand by wheelbarrow

3. Wildflower/Butterfly Garden Design

a. The garden should be approximately 50 square metres (i.e. five metres x 10 metres);

b. The sample plans require one, 23 tonne, load of sand, applied to a depth of around 20 centimetres;

c. The shape is up to your imagination. Keep in mind, however, shapes that are more complex will add difficulty to your project;

d. Surrounding the garden with a seating area will facilitate an outdoor classroom.

4. Contacts for supplies and materials

a. 550 plants including wildflowers, grasses, vines, and shrubs are needed to adequately stock a 50 square metre garden (Contact FRW for more information);

b. 23 metric tonnes of sand is required (order sand fill from your local aggregate company);

c. If logs are used to surround the sand, they should be 20 to 25cm in diameter. The logs can be acquired from local Toronto Parks yard (Forestry Department) or the TDSB. Logs offer a very inexpensive and rustic way to prevent the sand from eroding, but only last five to 10 years;

d. If rocks are used to block sand from eroding, they should be at least 20cm thick. Rocks will last much longer than logs and offer a more manicured look (order rocks from your local aggregate company);

e. Mulch is available from Toronto Parks or TDSB.

5. Layout Perimeter

a. Use a non-toxic paint to spray an outline of the garden on the chosen site;

b. Following your design lay the logs and/or rocks out butting them up to each other as tightly as possible;

c. Leave a (minimum) 2.5-metre opening in the front to facilitate the dumping of sand by the dump truck.

6. Seal Perimeter Material

a. If you use logs, place mulch on both sides to seal any cracks so sand can't wash out;

b. If you use rocks, place mulch around the inside to fill in any cracks;

c. Put some mulch aside to seal cracks in the front barrier when is put in place after the sand is received.

7. Insert Growing Medium

a. If the soil below the garden has poor nutrient levels, adding two to three centimetres of compost and some mulch will improve fertility and water retention;

b. Have the sand dumped inside the perimeter of the garden (sometimes the truck can dump in more than one location to reduce raking and spreading);

c. Close off the front of the garden with logs or rocks and seal properly;

d. Spread sand evenly throughout the garden.

8. Insert Vertical Habitat Structures

a. Insert vertical logs to facilitate vine climbing and to provide a place to affix a bird box;

b. A one-metre deep hole should be dug for the vertical log and it should stand around two metres high so the bird box won't be vandalized. Logs that are only used for climbing can be any size. The soil that is removed for a vertical log should be kept aside not mixed with the sand, because it is full of seeds and will contaminate your sterile sand;

c. A blue bird box is a good choice for a box, nuthatches and swallows use this box as well;

d. A hollow log is excellent habitat for a butterfly. It offers shelter from the rain and places for larva to overwinter.

9. Plant Arrangement and Spacing

a. Shrubs generally go to the back and corners, and vines at the base of the posts.

b. Arrange wildflowers and grasses by size, colour, and relative aggressiveness.

i. Tall plants to the back small to the front and sides (Contact FRW for more information).

ii. Plants with high aggression coefficients place next to each other, never put a coefficent of 1 beside a 5, try to keep them within 2 numbers of each other (i.e. 4 beside 5 or 3 beside 5) (Contact FRW for more information).

iii. Wildflowers and grasses should be planted 15 to 25 centimetres apart. Place aggressive plants 25 centimetres apart, and less aggressive plants at 15 centimetres (Contact FRW for more information).

iv. Arrange blooming patterns so colours are balanced throughout the growing season and colours are varied through the garden at specific times (Contact FRW for more information).

v. Try to plant species in groups of at least nine (half of a tray). Same species coexist where different species compete with each other.

vi. Put id tags with at least one of each species. Clump to facilitate easy identification.

10. Mulch Garden and Water

a. Apply a thin layer of mulch over the entire garden, be careful not to bury any plants (make sure the mulch is clean and free of seeds to avoid unwanted weeds);

b. Water the garden thoroughly for approximately one hour to saturate the soil.


Fertilize twice once after planting, once in late spring, and once in early summer (about two weeks later).

If there is no rain for the first year, ensure plants are heavily watered every week.